Tallahasse, Fla. The Florida Supreme Court struck down a statewide voucher system Thursday that allowed children to attend private schools at taxpayer expense - a program Gov. Jeb Bush considered one of his proudest achievements.
It was the nation's first statewide voucher program.
In a 5-2 ruling, the high court said the program undermines the public schools and violates the Florida Constitution's requirement of a uniform system of free public education.
Voucher opponents also had argued that the program violated the separation of church and state in giving tax dollars to parochial schools - an argument a lower court agreed with. But the state Supreme Court did not address that issue.
About 700 children are attending private or parochial schools through the program. But the ruling will not become effective until the end of the school year.
"I think it is a sad day for accountability in our state," Bush said. He said the voucher program had a positive effect because it "put pressure on school districts to focus on the underperforming schools."
The voucher setup was a part of an education program on the governor's part that also includes testing at virtually every level and a school grading system that offers performance-based rewards and punishments.
Bush said he will look for ways to continue the voucher programs, such as finding private money, changing state law or amending the Florida Constitution.