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Private school voucher program could prompt legal battle

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The inclusion of a private school voucher program in Florida's 2019 education package could result in lawsuits. 

The battle over vouchers has a 20 year history in the state, dating back to Gov. Jeb Bush. It started in 1999, when Bush signed into law the Opportunity Scholarship Program. 

The program allowed students in failing schools to receive a tax funded voucher to attend private schools.

"I think we're in for a renaissance in public education," said Bush at the bill signing.

In 2006, the program was declared unconstitutional by the state's supreme court, which found the program violated the requirement that public education be uniform and equal. Ron Meyer represented the state's largest teachers union in the case.

"They were under no standards.They didn't teach the same curriculum," Meyer said.

An appellate court also ruled that funding religious schools with tax payer dollars was unconstitutional.

"Religious schools are fine, but they shouldn't be paid for with state dollars," Meyer said.

Bush continued fighting for vouchers and led a push to put the question before voters in 2006. 

"Floridians will say, yes, that this is a fundamental right. That this is a civil right, that this is as American as apple pie," said Bush during a 2006 Save Our Schools rally.

While Bush failed to gather the support needed from the state Legislature at the time, the legal battle for school choice is about to be revived. The Legislature has approved a new private school voucher program called the Family Empowerment Scholarship.

Although a new name, the concerns from public school advocates are similar. Meyer said this time there might also be a discrimination argument made.

"Private schools, religious schools are free to kind of pick and choose among the students that they want," Meyer said.