Bush's bad idea lives on in capital

Published May 1, 2007

Jeb Bush is long gone from the state capital, but efforts to save the former governor's unconstitutional voucher program are quietly continuing in the last days of the legislative session. The public attention that helped defeat an identical effort last year has evaporated, and that's too bad. This remains a terrible idea even if nobody notices until lawmakers already have approved it.

The Florida Supreme Court could not have been clearer last year when it found that it is unconstitutional to use public money to pay for tuition vouchers at private schools for students at failing public schools. The court ruled the voucher program "diverts public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools that are the sole means set out in the Constitution for the state to provide for the education of Florida's children."

Yet legislators are back at it, trying to create a loophole where there isn't one. The House is poised to take a final vote on HB 7211, which would create a new trust fund that would take in money from corporate income taxes and declare that the fund could be used for "any purpose other than education." That way, the money would never really go into the state treasury and so it wouldn't be general revenue that should go to public education. Another bill would create a new corporate scholarship program for students at failing schools, which would be paid for with money in the bogus trust fund.

It's a neat trick. For some reason, it doesn't create nearly the heartburn among lawmakers that a high-profile effort to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot generated last year. Maybe that's because their constituents don't realize what they're planning on doing with their public money to make an end run around the Supreme Court and the state Constitution. This was a bad idea last year, and it is still a bad idea this year.