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A state judge in Florida ruled March 14 that the state's new school voucher plan violates the state's constitution."Tax dollars may not be used to send the children of this state to private schools," Circuit Judge Ralph Smith Jr. ruled. Smith said the 53 students in Pensacola who were the first to benefit from the program will lose their vouchers after this school year.Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who strongly pushed for the voucher plan during his first year in office, said he would appeal the decision. Bush called Smith's ruling the "first inning of a long, drawn-out legal battle."Under Florida's "Opportunity Scholarship" program, students at substandard public schools were able to seek vouchers valued at up to $3,389 to help pay for schooling at the private school of their choice, including church-affiliated schools.Students at schools that failed a state test two years out of four were eligible for vouchers. Pensacola students were the first to qualify, but up to 80 schools could have been deemed failures in June, making thousands of additional students eligible for the program.Smith said the program violated a provision of the Florida Constitution that requires the state to provide education to children through a "uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools." Smith's ruling did not address questions of separation of church and state that were raised by many voucher foes.Opponents of school vouchers praised the ruling. "Florida officials can't get around their constitutional duty to Florida's schoolchildren by passing the buck to private and religious schools," insisted Ralph Neas, president of People For the American Way Foundation.Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for ...

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