By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
The Broward School Board brought attention to an amendment teachers and civil rights advocates say could drain money from public schools and redirect those dollars into religious schools.
Voter’s Edge Florida
In November, voters will have the opportunity to vote on 11 amendments to Florida’s Constitution. Among the ballot measures pushed forward by the state’s Republican-led Legislature is Amendment 8, which would remove an existing ban in Florida on the outright funding of religious organization by taxpayers.
A little over a week ago, the Broward School Board made it known (sort of) that they disapprove of the ballot measure.
Broward County School Board members dislike a ballot initiative that would allow religious schools to receive public money, but they’re not allowed to formally say so.
So on Tuesday, they did what they see as the next best thing: They passed a resolution that informs voters of the “Religious Freedom” initiative and explains its potential impact.
That amendment strikes a constitutional ban on funding for “sectarian” schools, while adding new language prohibiting the government from denying “benefits of any program, funding, or other support” because of religious identity or belief.
However, as my colleague at WLRN-Miami Herald News, Rick Stone, writes at NPR’s State Impact, this “barely legal” warning from the school board should sound familiar. The argument that allowing the state to give tax money to religious or private schools could be injurious to public schools is nothing new.
According to Stone, the argument should be familiar:
It’s the one raised against former Gov. Jeb Bush’s “Opportunity Scholarship” program. It would have allowed parents to pay tuition at private schools — including religious private schools — with publicly-funded vouchers.
The Florida Supreme Court struck the program down as unconstitutional in 2006.
Under legislative rules, public school boards are generally not allowed to take public positions on public issues.
Instead, the Broward board passed a resolution that “explains” Amendment 8 and its possible results.
David Barkey, an Anti-Defamation League lawyer specializing in religious freedom, thinks Amendment 8 is an attempt to revive school vouchers.
Barkey and others have warned that the amendment would harm more than just public school funding. The ACLU of Florida and Americans United for Separation of Church and state have also warned that it would destroy a necessary firewall between church and state in Florida.
Those against the amendment have also warned that it would open the floodgates for many public services losing their ground to religious organizations.