Charlotte School Board fears cost of Amendment 8
At Tuesday’s Charlotte County School Board meeting, members unanimously approved a resolution from the Florida School Board Association opposing Amendment 8, officially titled “Religious Freedom.”
District officials warn the title is misleading, and passing the amendment, which is on the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election, could impede the current school system by draining billions from public schools and directing state tax dollars to private schools through the expansion of the state’s school voucher program.
“This is the most grossly misleading name of an amendment I have ever heard of,” said board member Barbara Rendell.
Opponents worry that passing the amendment would allow vouchers to be applied to religious schools; an act that the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy estimates could cost the state between $3.7 billion to $6.5 billion over the next five years. That estimate is based on the state funding every student currently attending a religious private school — an estimated 200,000 students. Florida currently has 70,000 students enrolled in two voucher programs, one that uses corporate tax credits and a smaller program that uses public dollars for disabled students.
“It has everything to do with money and nothing to do with religious freedom,” said board member Lee Swift. “This amendment would break the bank.”
Despite the negative impact, voters will not see any mention of public schools on the ballot summary or language in the amendment itself when they visit the polls.
If passed, the amendment would alter the Florida Constitution’s 127-year-old No Aide provision, removing the clause that guarantees separation of church and state, and replacing it with wording that prevents the state from denying funding to institutions based on religious affiliations.
“Amendment 8 does not provide any additional protections or safeguards for either clause,” the FSBA resolution states. “The repeal of No Aide would authorize,
and in some cases require, public funding for any religious church, sect or denomination.”
religious freedom through an establishment clause and free exercise clause.
After the amendment was passed in the state legislature in 2011, a rabbi challenged the legality of the “Religious Freedom” title and won in a Leon County circuit court. The judge found the amendment to be “ambiguous and misleading in violation of Florida Law.”
Public programs and services that are affiliated with a church, sect or religious denomination are not in conflict with the No Aide provision as long as they are delivered in a secular manner and don’t discriminate against participants, according to the resolution.
Florida schools have already undergone a series of budget deductions brought on by the recession. In 2011, funding for K-12 schooling was reduced by $1.3 billion. While $1 billion was restored this year, Florida districts operate primarily on property tax revenue which has yet to recover.
Earlier this month, the Sarasota County School Board also endorsed the FSBA in its opposition to Amendment 8.
“(Opposing the Amendment) is absolutely the right choice,” said Robert Segur, a newly elected member of the Charlotte County School Board who will begin his term next month. “It is totally and improperly titled to impact a vote that would negatively affect our children. I hope voters will look closely at the wording and disregard the title before they make their decision.”