Two of the constitutional amendments on this fall's lengthy presidential ballot are described to voters the following way:
No. 7: "Religious freedom."
No. 9: "Requiring 65 percent of school funding for classroom instruction; state's duty for children's education."
Here's a pop quiz: How many of you just guessed from the amendments' official titles that they are intended to invalidate a 2006 Florida Supreme Court and separate appellate court ruling against school vouchers?
If the actual purpose eluded you, then the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission would be pleased. The intent behind the baldly political game commissioners played in putting two school voucher issues on the ballot was obvious: Get voters to approve vouchers without knowing they did.
This was never supposed to be the commission's job anyway. The commission was created in 1988 after a bruising political battle the previous year over tax reform. The decision to impose, and then to revoke, a sales tax on services left the Legislature's head spinning and led it to propose a commission that would analyze the tax structure. A separate body, the Constitution Revision Commission, is charged with examining other issues.
The tax commission's agenda was hijacked this year by appointees aligned with former Gov. Jeb Bush, who has refused to accept the court's ruling against "Opportunity Scholarships." The result was Amendments 7 and 9, aimed at providing constitutional protection for school vouchers. The first would remove the prohibition on spending tax money "directly or indirectly" on religious schools. The second would add private schools to the list of ways the state fulfills its "paramount duty" to educate children.
Not surprisingly, the Florida Education Association now says it is going to take the ballot issue to court, and the frustration is understandable. The tax commission was never intended to deal with vouchers and the separation of church and state and, worse, it has posed the questions in a classic form of political misdirection. The commission purposefully attached to Amendment 9 an unrelated and largely meaningless requirement that 65 percent of education funding be directed to the classroom.
The commission had no business meddling in vouchers. But it should at least have been up front with voters. If the intent is to provide legal protection for vouchers, the ballot should say so. Otherwise, this is an unseemly deception.