Stealth Voucher Plan Doesn't Belong On Ballot

In November, Floridians could vote on school vouchers without knowing that they're voting on school vouchers. To avoid that kind of deceptive ballot manipulation, the Leon County Circuit Court should rule favorably on a request by education organizations and civil rights groups to strike proposed Amendments 7 and 9 from the fall ballot.

Judging by its title on the ballot, Amendment 7 is intended to protect "Religious Freedom." Who wouldn't vote for religious freedom? In fact, the amendment would authorize the Legislature to take public money directly from the state treasury and use it for tuition at private religious schools. Far from protecting religious freedom, government money comes with government rules. Churches should be wary of the interference, and the public should object to mingling church and state -- especially in a way that drains money from public education.

The title for Amendment 9 begins even more deceptively: "Requiring 65 percent of school funding for classroom instruction." Who wouldn't vote for that? But the whole gimmick of forcing districts to spend 65 percent of their budgets "inside the classroom" is a ruse. Rules defining such spending wouldn't be written until after the vote, but they are expected to be so loose as to be meaningless.

In an obvious attempt at deception, that 65-percent label is pasted on a separate proposal stating that Florida no longer would have to fulfill its obligations to the state's schoolchildren exclusively though "a system of free public schools." Though the amendments would authorize vouchers for private schools and are intended to overturn state circuit and Supreme Court rulings that invalidated vouchers for private schools, the word "voucher" does not appear in either amendment.

The lawsuit seeking removal of the amendments also makes the fundamental point that the group that placed them on the ballot -- the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission -- didn't have the authority to do so. It meets every 20 years to propose amendments "dealing with taxation or the state budgetary process." Instead, these two amendments deal with the separation of church and state and educational structure. Why? Because commissioners linked to Jeb Bush support vouchers for religious schools.

If vouchers are on the ballot, the word "vouchers" should be on the ballot. That's why these amendments should come off!