TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Gov. Jeb Bush said Wednesday he wants to extend school vouchers to underperforming readers, even after two courts have said the state's voucher program is unconstitutional.
The governor proposes giving a "reading compact scholarship" to any pupil who scores in the lowest level on the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test for three years running. The voucher would allow the pupil to enroll in another school.
Florida's first voucher law, passed in 1999, was a centerpiece of Bush's first legislative agenda but was immediately challenged in court.
A trial judge and the 1st District Court of Appeal have ruled that it violates the state constitution by allowing state dollars to be spent on religious schools. The voucher program continues while the challenge goes before the Florida Supreme Court, which could rule sometime this year.
"I'm hopeful that they will make the right decision," Bush said. "But we all have our roles to play. The judiciary has its role to play to determine, when asked, the constitutionality of laws. In the interim, we have a duty to reform our system.
"And this is an integral part, the next step of our reforms," Bush told reporters.
Bush, a steadfast advocate of reading programs, predicted that only about 10,000 pupils will participate if legislators approve vouchers to underperforming readers, even though about 170,000 pupils would have been eligible had a program been in place last year. A similarly small percentage of eligible pupils take part in the program created by the first voucher law, he said.
Nearly 700 children attend private schools through the first voucher law, which gives vouchers to pupils at public schools that earn a failing grade from the state two years out of four.