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Florida Teachers Sue Governor Over Vouchers

July 30, 1999|From Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A teachers' union sued Gov. Jeb Bush on Thursday to overturn the nation's only statewide voucher program that allows parents to send their children to private or parochial schools at taxpayer expense.

It is the second legal challenge to Florida's voucher program since it took effect last month.

"Taking money for vouchers violates the [Florida] Constitution, which says the Legislature must adequately fund public schools, and it's a paramount duty to do that," said Pat Tornillo, head of Florida Education Assn./United.

The union and its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers, filed suit in state court in Tallahassee, where a similar suit by other voucher opponents already is pending. The new lawsuit names Bush, his Cabinet and the state Board of Education as defendants.

"If these unions were just half as concerned about children as they claim, they would have invested the money they spent on these lawsuits on schools," Bush spokeswoman Lucia Ross said.

The American Federation of Teachers also sued Cleveland in federal court Thursday to challenge that city's voucher program, already the subject of another suit.

"Ohio and Florida should focus their resources on what works to improve the public schools that the vast majority of students attend," union President Sandra Feldman said.

The Ohio case alleges that the city's voucher program, which started three years ago, violates the U.S. Constitution by breaking down the separation of church and state. The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled in another suit that the program does not violate the separation clause.

Tornillo predicted his union's suit would be consolidated with the suit filed in June by parents and several other groups, including the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union.

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