Amendment 8 scoreboard: Teachers union $1 million, Catholics $158,000

The battle over an amendment to Florida’s no-aid-to-religion clause has taken another intriguing turn. In campaign contribution reports released today, the money war pits the Florida Education Association against Catholic groups. FEA is winning 6-to-1.

Through the Public Education Defense Fund, the FEA contributed $1 million through Sept. 14 to defeat the amendment, according to the reports. On the flip side, a long list of Catholic groups has contributed the bulk of the $158,500 raised through the same time frame to support the effort. The pro-Amendment 8 group, Citizens for Religious Freedom & Non-Discrimination, has spent about $43,221. Vote No on 8, meanwhile, has spent $759,003, mostly on media buys.

The amendment removes a clause in the State Constitution that has historical origins in anti-Catholic church bias, which hits home with church members to this day. A New York-based group, the Council for Secular Humanism, has sued to stop a prison ministries program to help inmates get off drugs, and religious providers fear the suit could lead to challenges involving other faith-based community services, such as Catholic Charities and the YMCA.

Meanwhile, FEA is waging its own campaign – against school vouchers – even though this amendment does not change the one constitutional provision that was cited by the Florida Supreme Court when in 2006 it outlawed a voucher that was the signature effort of former Gov. Jeb Bush. Voucher advocates are no longer interested in the no-aid amendment because they think two U.S. Supreme Court opinions provide ample protection.

So this showdown is looking stranger by the minute. One side fights against vouchers, the other for soup kitchens.

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BY Jon East

Jon East is special projects director for Step Up For Students. Previously, he was a member of the editorial board and the Sunday commentary editor at the St. Petersburg Times, Florida’s largest daily newspaper, where he wrote about education issues for most of his 28 years at the paper. He was also a reporter and editor at the Evening Independent and Ocala Star-Banner. He earned a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.