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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Win for Bush, TBRC approves school vouchers



Former Gov. Jeb Bush and school vouchers advocates scored a major victory this morning, when the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission approved a ballot proposal that would enshrine voucher protections in the state Constitution.

The plan addresses part of the constitution calling for a uniform system of free public schools and is part of a two-pronged effort to redeem Bush's Opportunity Scholarships. It had been defeated at an April 4 meeting but resurfaced through some procedural maneuvering that helped gain support for the property tax swap.

The vote was 19-6. Among the supporters: former Sen. John McKay, who was one of the opponents earlier this month. But McKay needed others to go along with his tax swap.

Advocates say increased competition will improve education for all students. "We are entering a time of global competition and we have to arm ourselves, our workforce and our students with the best possible education," commissioner Julia Johnson said.

But critics said the plan creates a mandate for public funding of private schools and said it could actually hurt existing programs that receive taxpayer support.

"Be careful what you ask for," said commissioner Les Miller.  "If you pass this, I guarantee you it's going to be in court." Non-voting member Dan Gelber called it a "frolic" and "idealogical pork" that had no right before a commission with the power to reform Florida's tax structure. "I think this is as wrongheaded a proposal as this commission could come up with," Gelber said.

The TBRC has already placed on the ballot a related provision that would remove language from the state Constitution that limits financial aid to religious organizations.

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 10:53am]


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