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Florida teachers union to file lawsuit against Jeb Bush's stealth school voucher amendments

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seafan Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-18-08 12:34 PM
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Florida teachers union to file lawsuit against Jeb Bush's stealth school voucher amendments
He may be out of the Governor's mansion, but he never relinquished power.

Through the hidden hand of Jeb Bush, his blind loyalists continue to push his extremist agenda to destroy public school education, not only in Florida, but clearly and most premeditatedly, throughout the rest of the country.

He is trying to destroy Florida's constitutional protections against the merging of church and state. And this coming November, we have to stop the devious plans of this vindictive and mean-spirited ex-governor who will never surrender power, at the ballot box.

Jeb Bush

Word of what Jeb Bush has done from behind the scenes is spreading very quickly.

From Americans United For Separation Of Church And State:

Florida Subterfuge: Religious School Advocates Relying On Deception In Upcoming Referendum

May 15th 2008

Floridas upcoming vote on private school vouchers and other forms of aid to religion is starting to attract national attention and early signs are that this is going to be a hard-fought battle.


If youre joining us late, heres whats going on: Florida, like about 37 other states, has a provision in its state constitution barring the diversion of tax funds for religious schools and institutions. The state also has a provision mandating a high-quality free public school system.

Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, used an obscure state tax commission to engineer two initiatives onto the November ballot that would rewrite those provisions and legalize school vouchers and other forms of aid to religion in the state.

Every poll Ive seen on vouchers shows that they are unpopular. Thus, these initiatives never use the word voucher. Instead, voucher proponents are arguing that unless this provision is removed, the state wont be able to work with religious groups to help those in need.

Patricia Levesque, the tax commission member (and Bob Jones University graduate) who promoted the ballot initiatives on Bushs behalf, told The Post that the current constitution threatens the states ability to work with religious groups to provide social programs like substance-abuse education, prisoner reentry and foster care.

ere going to have hundreds of millions of dollars of programs that the state will have to take over because we wont have faith-based providers participating anymore, Levesque said.

These are scare tactics, pure and simple. Voucher opponents point out that the state has worked with religious groups on secular social service projects for years with no problems. Levesque, who served as Bushs education policy chief and now runs two pro-voucher groups for Bush, is trying to slip a massive voucher plan past the voters by disguising it as a benign faith-based program.

Voucher supporters dont have a very good track record when it comes to rewriting state constitutions. Voters have repeatedly rejected voucher referenda at the polls, usually by sweeping margins. But the voucher gang has learned from past defeats and is getting a lot more devious, promoting language that never mentions the v-word and portraying themselves as defenders of religion.

To make matters worse, theyve packaged one of the initiatives with a school funding requirement designed to mislead voters into thinking public school classrooms will get more money if the proposal passes. What a scam!

If the Bush crew gets away with this in Florida, you can bet theyll move on to other states and eviscerate church-state language there.

The voucher boosters have signaled they intend to play hardball in Florida. They wont hesitate to use deception. Our challenge is to make sure Sunshine State residents have the facts and understand all that is at stake.

Now, on to the current situation:

Teachers union poised to fight amendments

Aaron Deslatte
Orlando Sentinel

May 14, 2008

TALLAHASSEE - Major interest groups are gearing up to campaign against three constitutional amendments that will be on the November ballot: two that would authorize school vouchers and one that would swap $9.5 billion in property taxes for higher sales taxes.

The state's powerful teachers union is weighing a multipronged attack on amendments 7 and 9, which would clear the way to restart ex-Gov. Jeb Bush's school vouchers. Florida Education Association attorney Ron Meyer said the group may oppose all the amendments on the Nov. 4 ballot, including Amendment 5, which would eliminate $9.5 billion in property taxes for schools and replace it with other taxes.

"There's decidedly going to be a campaign that will be aggressively pursued," he said.

John McKay, the former Bradenton senator who pushed the tax swap on the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, has said he was afraid putting the controversial voucher amendments on the ballot could drag down the tax swap, too.

That's why he pushed to place the tax amendment higher on the ballot than the voucher ones: so voters would see it before they got to the voucher questions.

"My gut tells me that could hurt," said McKay, who is organizing the campaign for the tax swap, of the teachers-union campaign.

Amendment 7 would remove Florida's century-old ban on state dollars going to religious or "sectarian" institutions. Amendment 9 would spell out that the constitutional requirement to fund "public" schools couldn't prevent tax dollars from going to private schools. Both amendments were pushed by former Bush staffers on the tax and budget panel, which last month put them on the ballot.


The property-tax swap is drawing a coalition of business-sector opponents. Senate Finance and Tax Chairman Mike Haridopolos, R- Melbourne, said Tuesday that he is recruiting agricultural, restaurant, tourism, advertising and accountant groups as well as school districts. He said a committee, Protect Florida's Future, will raise money to combat the swap. "We're going to visit every community and let them know the whole story," he said.


Fla. teachers union will challenge voucher amendments

Associated Press Writer
Florida Times-Union

May 14, 2008

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida's statewide teachers union will sue to keep off the ballot two proposals designed to expand vouchers that let students attend private schools at public expense, the group's spokesman said Wednesday.

The proposed state constitutional amendments are designed to undo a pair of court rulings striking down one voucher program and protect others existing now or created in the future from similar legal challenges.

Both amendments were placed on the November ballot by a state panel that meets every 20 years.

"The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission exceeded its authority in putting on a couple ballot initiatives that don't relate to budgeting or taxes," said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association.

The union also will challenge one of the amendments on grounds it had not been listed on the commission's agenda, Pudlow said.

He said the union will sue in Circuit Court here within a couple weeks but the case may eventually go to the Florida Supreme Court.

A union lawyer had raised the same issues in testimony before the commission. Voucher supporters then said the proposals are budget related because the state could save money by offering vouchers worth less than it spends on each student in public schools.

Commission Chairman Allan Bense, a former House speaker, also ruled the amendment not on the panel's agenda for its last meeting on April 25 could be considered under the agenda's "other business" listing.

That proposal, Amendment 9, is in response to a Supreme Court ruling that struck down a voucher program that let students from failing public schools attend private schools at taxpayer expense. Critics say it could be interpreted to require that the state offer vouchers.

The Supreme Court ruled the failing school vouchers, a key part of former Gov. Jeb Bush's school accountability program, violated a constitutional provision that requires a uniform system for free public schools. The justices said the Opportunity Scholarship Program set up a second system of schools with different rules and regulations.

The amendment would allow the state to fulfill its responsibility for educating Florida's children through means other than the uniform school system.

Another provision would require school districts to spend 65 percent of their budgets in the classroom.

The other voucher-related ballot proposal, Amendment 7, would repeal a constitutional provision prohibiting the state from providing financial aid to churches and other religious organizations.



Orlando Sentinel

Aaron Deslatte | Sentinel Staff Writer
2:43 PM EDT, May 17, 2008

TALLAHASSEE - The state's powerful teachers union is launching a two-pronged attack on two constitutional amendments designed to re-start former Gov. Jeb Bush's controversial school-voucher program.

The Florida Education Association's governing body, meeting Saturday in Orlando, decided to ask the courts whether an appointed tax reform commission overstepped its bounds last month when it placed the two voucher amendments on the November ballot.

The 250,000-member union will also launch a campaign against Amendments 7 and 9 on the Nov. 4 election ballot. Both questions would need 60 percent voter-support to pass.

FEA officials said they'd argue both amendments are flawed because they exceed the state Taxation and Budget Reform Commission's authority. The panel meets once every 20 years to consider sending tax and budget constitutional changes to voters.

FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow said the challenge would be filed in Leon County Circuit Court within the next two weeks, but that the case would likely wind up with the Florida Supreme Court.

"We're certain it will ultimately end up in the Supreme Court, hopefully, before the election," he said.

Both voucher proposals were pushed by former Bush staffers Patricia Levesque and Greg Turbeville on the commission.

If given the OK by voters, they would essentially undo court rulings that overturned Bush's first voucher program, called "Opportunity Scholarships."

Amendment 7 would remove Florida's century-old prohibition on state money going to religious or "sectarian" institutions, while Amendment 9 would mandate that 65 percent of spending must go to classrooms and that Florida's constitutional charge to fund public schools doesn't prevent tax dollars from going to private schools.

"The constitution says they are charged with looking at things related to taxation or the budget process and neither of these are related," said Pudlow.

The union will also argue the ballot summaries are vague and that Amendment 9 passed without following Florida's open-government law requiring seven days' notice.

Levesque said Saturday it was "unfortunate but not surprising that the teachers union is challenging amendments that would keep more money in Florida classrooms and allow parents, not government, to make the best decisions for their child's education."


Bush applauded the commission last month for letting "Florida voters, not activist jurists ..... decide the best way to provide a quality education for all of our students."


Recently, the Washington Post took notice of what is happening:

Fla. to Consider Key Church-State Question

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 15, 2008; Page A02

The potential repeal of a century-old Florida law barring state funding for religiously affiliated organizations is to be put before the voters there this fall, at the end of a lobbying battle that has attracted the attention of President Bush and has engaged a coalition of liberal or secular educational groups.

The vote is widely considered the first of numerous state battles over the funding ban. It exists in 36 other states but has been targeted by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based law firm, and by activists in the states.

At stake is the Blaine Amendment, a type of law enacted in states about a century ago as an attempt by the country's Protestant majority to block government support for Catholic schools. The Blaine laws have long kept religious schools and, in some states such as Florida, many programs run by religiously affiliated organizations, away from the public coffers.


In Florida, a citizen panel called the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission last month voted to put a measure on the November ballot stating that "individuals or entities may not be barred from participating in public programs because of their religion." The panel, appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, meets every 20 years.


For the record, just WHO makes up this obscure panel?

Jeb Bush and his operatives stacked this commission with hand-picked loyalists. What a damn surprise that is...

And Commissioner Ms. Levesque, who served as Jeb Bush's Deputy Chief of Staff and also presently serves as Executive Director of two foundations Bush has established to advance his educational goals, namely, the Foundation For Florida's Future and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, is doing everything she can to force her boss's agenda down Floridians' throats.

Patricia Levesque says the funds ban hurts Florida's social programs. (Phil Coale - Associated Press)

The Post continues:

Patricia Levesque, the commission member who pushed to add the measure, said she acted because a 2004 appeals court decision cited the Blaine Amendment while striking down then-Gov. Jeb Bush's effort to allow students in failing schools to enroll in parochial and other private schools at public expense.

Levesque said the 2004 decision, as well as a lawsuit recently filed against state prison chaplains, could endanger millions of dollars in state contracts that go to faith-based organizations running substance abuse programs, HIV education services, foster care programs and pre-kindergarten programs.

"When you start looking at the appellate court decision and if this new lawsuit were applied to these programs," Levesque warned, "we're going to have hundreds of millions of dollars of programs that the state will have to take over because we won't have faith-based providers participating anymore."

Opponents of the measure say that Levesque, Jeb Bush's former education policy chief and the current head of Bush's independent education organization, Foundation for Florida's Future, is using alarmist language as a way to revive his voucher program.

The warnings are a "scare tactic" said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association. "It's Governor Bush's attempt to get vouchers for all." A coalition of education organizations has combined with Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Anti-Defamation League to contest the measure.

As long as programs run by religiously affiliated organizations are delivering secular social services in a nondiscriminatory way, they are not affected by the Blaine Amendment or the Florida appeals court decision, said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida.

"We've had this in this country for decades and there is no constitutional impediment to that," Simon said. Proponents of removing the Blaine Amendment, he said, "want government funds in order to be able to engage in religious activities and discriminate on who is served and who is hired."


But Simon warned that it will be an "ugly electoral season in Florida. It's not going to be pretty."

That is the understatement of the year.

This is a stark warning for everyone in this country: Jeb Bush has grand ambition to take the White House and to dismantle our rights. He has nothing to lose. And he won't stop until he gets what he wants.

We must do everything we can to expose his activities and bring him to justice.

And we must weed out his ideological heirs-in-training.

This is a call to action.

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tbyg52 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-18-08 12:41 PM
Response to Original message
1. Good for them! K&R! nt
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flashl Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-18-08 12:44 PM
Response to Original message
2. K&R
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ulysses Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-18-08 12:44 PM
Response to Original message
3. happy to rec this.
Let's keep it kicked.
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FloridaJudy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-18-08 12:50 PM
Response to Original message
4. Jeb Bush: the worst thing EVER to hit Florida.
I'd prefer a few dozen hurricanes: we know how to clean up after those.
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DrDan Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-18-08 01:25 PM
Response to Original message
5. and do not forget his brother Neil and his education bankroll

The bushes do NOTHING that does not enhance their personal fortunes.
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seafan Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-18-08 02:05 PM
Response to Reply #5
6. You are so correct, DrDan. Here's more on the NCLB-Reading First $$$ that was Neil's gravy train:
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LWolf Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-18-08 02:10 PM
Response to Original message
7. Good.
I wish to hell they would have fought harder against high stakes testing, both at the state and federal levels.

I hope they are gearing up to fight Obama over merit pay and his other supports for privatization of public education.
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