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Excerpts from judge's ruling

Compiled by Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 15, 2000


Here is the text of Article IX, section 1, of the Florida Constitution, as amended in 1998:

Public education. -- The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education and for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.

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Some excerpts from Leon Circuit Judge L. Ralph Smith Jr.'s opinion finding school vouchers to be a violation of Article IX, section 1, of Florida's Constitution:

"By providing state funds for some students to obtain a K-12 education through private schools, as an alternative to the high quality education available through the system of free public schools, the Legislature has violated the mandate of the Florida Constitution, adopted by the electorate of this state. Tax dollars may not be used to send the children of this state to private schools as provided by the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

"Article IX, section 1, directs that it is a "paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.' But the Constitution also prescribes how the state is to carry out this education mandate. The sentence that imposes on the state the duty to make "adequate provision' for the education of Florida children is followed immediately by the requirement -- which can only be read as an instruction on the manner in which the state is to fulfill that duty -- that such adequate provision "shall be made' through "a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools. . . .'

"The language of Article IX, section 1, authorizes public education programs -- not programs that pay for private education. The reference to "other public education programs' was not intended to allow the state to set up an alternative to the system of free public schools. Rather, as the court made clear . . . this language was intended to refer to programs outside the scope of traditional K-12 education, such as junior college and adult education programs.

"Moreover, the defendants' argument that by establishing "other public education programs' the state may educate elementary and secondary students in some way other than through the constitutionally mandated "system of free public schools' leads to an untenable result. That interpretation would allow the state to evade all of the constitutional requirements regarding the education it is to provide to Florida children -- not only the requirement that this education be provided through a "system of free public schools' -- and would allow the state to provide Florida children with their elementary and secondary education through "other public education programs' that are not "uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality.'"

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