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Florida Voters May Get Chance to Lift Ban On Tax Subsidies to Religious Schools

| December 1, 2017

A taste for subsidies. (Catholic Diocese of Saginaw)

A taste for subsidies. (Catholic Diocese of Saginaw)

A ban on state support for religious groups would be removed from the Florida Constitution under a proposal approved Wednesday by a Constitution Revision Commission panel.


In a 5-1 vote, the commission’s Declaration of Rights Committee endorsed a measure (Proposal 4) that would eliminate the Constitution’s so-called “no-aid” provision, which prohibits public funding “directly or indirectly” for any church, religious group or “sectarian institution.”

The no-aid provision, which dates to Florida’s 1885 Constitution, has been invoked in recent years in legal fights over using publicly funded vouchers to send students to private schools. A state appellate court in 2004 cited the provision in striking down a voucher program, though the Florida Supreme Court later found the program unconstitutional on other grounds.

Constitution Revision Commission member Roberto Martinez of Miami said he sponsored the proposed change because he believed the no-aid provision was being used to prohibit churches and other groups from performing non-religious activities based solely on their statuses as religious organizations.

Martinez said the ban was unnecessary and that using state funding by a group to promote religious activities would violate another constitutional provision prohibiting laws involving the “establishment of religion.”

“If the church was going to use it in a way that would promote a particular religious objective, then I think it would run afoul of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” Martinez, an attorney, said.

Marco Paredes, associate director for the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, said his organization supported the proposal as a way to let church-related groups participate in other activities.

“We believe this proposal is good public policy,” Paredes said. “It restores an equal and rightful place to faith-based organizations in the public square.”

Paredes also said if the no-aid provision remains, it potentially could jeopardize other programs, ranging from hospitals to housing programs to natural-disaster relief, that receive public funds but are run by religious groups.

“All these programs face an uncertain future because at any time someone could challenge (them),” he said.

Mary Adkins, a law professor at the University of Florida and the author of a recent book on the development of Florida’s Constitution, said there is debate over whether no-aid provisions across the nation were the result of anti-Catholic sentiment in the 19th Century. But she said there was “no hint of anti-Catholic animus” in Florida, although the historical records are scant.

Florida is one of 37 states that has a no-aid provision in its state Constitution.

The Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years and has the power to place proposed constitutional amendments on the November 2018 ballot. Martinez’s proposal to eliminate the no-aid provision is one of dozens of proposals being considered by the commission.

Adkins warned commission members that adding a “controversial” provision like the no-aid proposal could jeopardize the commission’s entire slate of measures. She noted a similar no-aid constitutional amendment failed in 2012 with only 44.5 percent support from voters.

Commissioner John Stemberger, an Orlando attorney who supported the proposal, acknowledged that commission members will have to weigh the ballot practicality of the measures, but “in the end we have to do what’s right.”

“The general public when they vote will determine what’s going to be successful or not,” he said.

Commissioner Arthenia Joyner, a former Democratic state senator from Tampa, cast the only vote against the proposal, saying it would “gut” court rulings that have blocked the expansion of school vouchers.

Joyner said Floridians already have a choice of sending their students to private or religious schools.

“Should the taxpayers of Florida be compelled to pay for your choice?” she asked. “Should the taxpayers be forced to send their money to a religious group preferred by someone else?”

Martinez’s proposal next heads to the commission’s Education Committee. If it moves forward to the full 37-member commission, it will need at least 22 votes to go before voters in November 2018.

–Lloyd Dunkleberger, News Service of Florida

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20 Responses for “Florida Voters May Get Chance to Lift Ban On Tax Subsidies to Religious Schools”

  1. Ken Dodge says:

    “The Constitution Revision Commission . . . has the power to place proposed constitutional amendments on the November 2018 ballot. Martinez’s proposal . . . is one of dozens of proposals being considered by the commission.”
    Can ‘dozens of proposals’ actually be placed on the November 2018 ballot? Because, if this is true, the November 2018 ballot may be several pages in length, requiring considerable time for voters to complete.

  2. tulip says:

    If parents want to send their children to a private school, religious or otherwise, then they should pay the full tuition amount themselves. Taxpayers pay for public schools and should not be paying for private schools for the more affluent or for those who use voucher system. That would also deplete the amount collected for public schools, as it would now have to be shared and the public schools don’t get enough money as it is, so “they” say.

    We have Charter schools, as well as public, and that’s enough.

    And a more bigoted thought about it is that perhaps someone doesn’t want to pay for a religious school that is of a different religion than he or she is. Example Protestants or Jewish taxpayers paying for a Catholic school or vice versa. JMO

  3. Sherry says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Tulip!

    Although we don’t have children, we are fine with paying taxes for “PUBLIC” schools because education is the foundation for an evolved and civilized future. BUT. . . using tax payer’s hard earned cash for “private” schools of any kind is NOT acceptable!

  4. Bill Korson says:

    I challenge anyone in Florida to identify one single incident when a faith-based charity that serves a secular purpose was denied funding! Just one.

  5. Stretchem says:

    You folks need to understand, if the hundred plus thousand kids on the Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship have to go back into the public schools, all of our taxes go up. Simple math. Private schools have figured out how to educate kids for roughly half the cost of public schools.

    Careful what you wish for.

  6. gmath55 says:

    Private or public parents should pay for children’s education NOT the tax payer. Private education is better also. When I went went from a private school to a public (8th grade to 9th grade) I was one grade level above the rest.

  7. Edith Campins says:

    Kudos to Tulip and Sherry. Tax dollars should not go to private schools.

  8. Sherry says:

    To those who mistakenly think we have the best education system in the world. . . although we’ve had charter schools for over 20 years and private schools for much longer, our system is ranked behind many other first world countries, even though we spend more. This from the Pew Research Center:

    How do U.S. students compare with their peers around the world? Recently released data from international math and science assessments indicate that U.S. students continue to rank around the middle of the pack, and behind many other advanced industrial nations.

    One of the biggest cross-national tests is the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which every three years measures reading ability, math and science literacy and other key skills among 15-year-olds in dozens of developed and developing countries. The most recent PISA results, from 2015, placed the U.S. an unimpressive 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science. Among the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which sponsors the PISA initiative, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 19th in science.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Will it only be for “Christian” schools or will other religions (Muslim, Buddhist, Luciferian, etc.) be allowed to participate?

  10. Stretchem says:

    Okay, for those that love to spew the “stats” on how America compares to other “developed” countries in educational performance…. The US has to educate 50+ million K-12 kids each year. That alone is a monumental task. Right there, comparatively per population, drop most of your “developed” countries off your list. It’s not apples to apples. There are more school aged kids just in Florida than all of half of the “developed” countries on the planet.

    Now talk China and India, both of whom proportunally not only have a lesser percentage of their kids even attending, but also struggle to graduate a percentage that’s comparable to the US. Plus for those that do, where do they go for quality higher learning? That’s right, the United States!

    Public AND private school education works. It spawns competition that makes the entire system better. It makes teachers better, it makes administrators and politicians THINK, and the beneficiaries are the kids, you and me.

    For those living in some mass dilusion that private schools are for the elite, go walk the halls of our local Matanzas and the halls of FBCA, and then tell me where the money goes. Again, private schools accomplish the same or better results for half the costs per child!

    One final perspective…. Florida spends 20+ BILLION a year on public education, compared to just less than 700 million allocated for the Corporate Tax Credit Scholarships. That’s less than one half percent. New meaning to majoring in the minors.

  11. Iva Hadit says:

    This is a terrible idea! Religious institutions get enough tax breaks as it is. No public funds for private religious schools!

  12. Sherry says:

    Some excellent studies have show that vouchers for “private” schools are increasing segregation in our school systems. Do we really want to go back to the 1950s???

    Take the time to read this report, and others. This from The Century Foundation :

    https://tcf.org/content/report/private-school-vouchers-pose-threat-integration/

  13. Pogo says:

    @Anonymous says:

    “Will it only be for “Christian” schools or will other religions (Muslim, Buddhist, Luciferian, etc.) be allowed to participate?”

    I’d like to know that too. I wonder what the curriculum at Scientology High would consist of.

    As for the FUD supplied by the local voucher shill – read this too:

    “Which countries provide their citizens with the best higher education?

    Universities are vital for developing human capital. They are essential cogs in the global knowledge economy. Where once only available to few, higher education is now almost a requirement for entry to the middle class, and even more so to the ranks of the elite.

    Competition among universities has given rise to rankings that try to ascertain which are the globally most competitive. These lists are typically based on metrics such as research output, prestige and accomplishments of alumni. Although the various measures produce different orderings, the global top schools are highly similar across the assessments.

    The number of globally-ranked schools in a country is then invariably used to measure the quality of higher education there. However, this perspective overlooks the growing inequality of higher education…”

    Continued from above:

    “Are US universities as good as we think?

    So is the US – which regularly tops the list of top countries for universities – really delivering on providing quality education? Even though a majority of globally-ranked universities are there, only a fraction of Americans attend its elite universities. The majority of US universities are not globally ranked. In fact, just 3% of its universities are ranked in the global top 200; 5% are in the global top 500; and 8% are in the global top 1,000 (placing it 13th, 21st, and 22nd, respectively). That is, the average tertiary student in the USA is not attending a globally-competitive school. American higher education is delivering for the elite but not for the masses. How does this compare with other countries?…”

    Full Article
    https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/05/which-countries-provide-their-citizens-with-the-best-higher-education/

  14. Sherry says:

    Please cite factual sources for the statement that private schools deliver better education at half the cost of public. Here’s some actual research on the subject:

    https://www.moneycrashers.com/private-vs-public-school-cost-comparison/

  15. Percy's mother says:

    Re the question, “Do we really want to go back to the 1950s???”

    YES, YES, YES!!!!!

  16. Ken Dodge says:

    Our post-war graduates put a man on the moon in the 1960’s. The question we now must face is whether the graduates of today’s education system could put a woman on the moon.

  17. Terry says:

    I would like every student to have the opportunity to attend a religious school for a variety of reasons. First and foremost is the public school system, has failed and continues to get worse. We are dumbing down our children.

    That said I wish there was another way because it would be a terrible thing to allow any government entity the ability to control curriculum in religious schools.

  18. Ws says:

    I don’t have any children in school and should not be FORCED to pay taxes for any schools private or public. It’s time to change the system. Those who have school aged children should be stuck with the burden of those taxes. Lets stop abusing the people who don’t have kids in school. The current system is unfair and needs to be changed ASAP!

  19. gmath55 says:

    More money doesn’t equate to better education.

    Stupid In America Documentary

  20. gmath55 says:

    Looks like American Indian Public Charter Schools do the best job.

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