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January 5, 2006

Russell Schweiss
(850) 488-5394

Statement by Governor Jeb Bush Regarding Florida Supreme Court Decision on Opportunity Scholarships

TALLAHASSEE — "We are disappointed in the Florida Supreme Court's decision to deny hundreds of parents the opportunity to send their child to a school they believe improves their child's chances for success. The public never benefits from the government protecting a monopoly.

"The purpose of the Opportunity Scholarship Program is to improve public education and stimulate competition. The Court's decision today is a blow to educational reform. It temporarily removes a critical tool for improving Florida's public schools and it also challenges the power of the Florida Legislature to decide as a matter of public policy the best way to improve our educational system.

"As the dissent and the First District Court of Appeal stated, ‘Nothing in Article IX, Section 1 clearly prohibits the Legislature from allowing the well-delineated use of public funds for private school education, particularly in circumstances where the Legislature finds such use is necessary.'

"There is no question that Florida must provide for a high quality public education system. We've done so by providing nearly $100 billion to public education and increasing funding by $1,563 per student in the last seven years.

"Today marks the first time the Florida Supreme Court has struck an educational program solely because private schools participate equally in it. The Florida Legislature has historically funded private education for a number of specialized services, including tutoring and education for troubled students, disabled students, and exceptional students.

"This year more than 700 students have taken advantage of the Opportunity Scholarship Program and educational choices they could only dream about before. Of the Opportunity Scholarship students currently enrolled in private schools, 64 percent are African-American and 30 percent are Hispanic students whose parents cannot afford to send them to private schools. The Opportunity Scholarship Program and Florida's other school choice programs give every student a chance to succeed. They provide real choice to students while driving greater student achievement in low performing public schools.

"We will work to protect these programs so important to so many families. We will explore all legal options and ask the Florida Legislature to enact any available legislative fixes or amend the Florida Constitution once again to enable the Legislature to fund all educational programs."

Also, please find attached a list of legislative members who are available by phone to comment on the Florida Supreme Court ruling regarding the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

List of legislative members available today:

Senator JD Alexander, 863-679-4411
Senator Daniel Webster, 407-656-0066
Representative Rafael Arza, 305-827-2720
Representative Dean Cannon, 407-681-5454
Representative Joe Pickens, 386-312-2272
Speaker Designate Marco Rubio, 305-442-6939
Representative Ray Sansom, 850-833-9328
Representative John Stargel, 863-413-2877