Florida voters will not be voting this fall on whether to make the state constitution more amendable to school vouchers.
The state’s Constitution Revision Commission is still finalizing its proposals for the November ballot. But two proposals that might have drawn the attention of private school choice advocates won’t be in the mix.
One of those proposals would have struck Florida’s so-called Blaine Amendment. The debate around that now-scuttled proposal could hold insights for school choice advocates looking to overturn provisions in state constitutions that bar public aid to religious institutions.
Commissioner Roberto Martinez is a Miami lawyer who supported the proposal. He pointed to programs like a prison substance-abuse program that faced a legal challenge from the Council for Secular Humanism. Courts ultimately ruled the program’s faith-based providers do not violate Florida’s Blaine Amendment.
“I say this with all respect to the judges who were involved in those opinions. They performed legal jiu-jitsu in order to find the programs in effect constitutional, and not in violation of the no-aid provision, even though those programs provided aid to a religious organization,” Martinez said while debating the proposal last week.
If judges had blocked the program — which, he argued, the state constitution technically requires — they could have wound up on a collision course with the U.S. Supreme Court, which last year found it was unconstitutional to exclude religious schools from a program the helped fund safe playground equipment.
Since Florida judges kept the door open for faith-based substance-abuse services, the state’s “no-aid” provision remains safe from a federal challenge that could gut it — at least for now. Continue Reading →