January 9, 2006

Bush v. Holmes 2005

I've now had a chance to look at Bush v. Holmes, the voucher decision in Florida. There are some hidden bombs in here (past the jump):

  1. A key aspect of the program, according to the majority analysis, is the diversion of funds from local school districts to the vouchers (pp. 25-27). I don't know if a voucher program that didn't divert resources would be constitutional, but it would require different analysis in any case.
  2. The majority's reasoning on uniformity (pp. 27-30) largely mirrors my analysis of a double-standard in accountability in 2004.
  3. The reasoning on uniformity does not appear to define what would be constitutional variations in rules. To be fair, the dissent (curiously) failed to discuss the uniformity provision entirely, so it looks like all the justices fell down on this point. That doesn't mean, unlike some newspaper editorials I've read, that charter schools are necessarily unconstitutional because they receive some waivers from state regulation. It just means that there is no guidance in this ruling for what constitutes acceptable uniformity.
  4. Florida's Supreme Court just announced that it will look favorably on funding-adequacy lawsuits, commenting on 1998 amendments to the state constitution: "After the 1998 revision restoring the 'paramount duty' language, Florida’s education article is again classified as a Category IV clause, imposing a maximum duty on the state to provide for public education that is uniform and of high quality" (p. 6). This is a dramatic change in the attitude of the Florida court, which has generally shied away from school-funding cases.

The obvious question now is what will happen to the larger voucher programs in Florida—the students-with-disabilities voucher program and the corporate income-tax-shift voucher program. I suspect that plaintiffs could easily prevail on these programs. But there are two possible routes:

  • Insist that the courts disband the programs, using the analysis of the state supreme court.
  • Insist that the courts remedy the constitutional flaws in the programs by changing the funding mechanisms and by imposing accountability requirements that are substantially similar to those which apply to local public schools.
No predictions here as to who will try what. Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy on January 9, 2006 11:57 AM |