Florida's largest teachers' union will appeal a District Court judge's decision to dismiss a lawsuit against the state's Tax Credit Scholarship program.
The suit pits the Florida Education Association of 137,000 teachers against a program which gives 70,000 students (most of whom are low-income minorities) scholarships to attend private schools around the state.
Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds dismissed the lawsuit last month, deciding the FEA and other plaintiffs didn't have standing to pursue legal action against the program.
The case was filed last August based on the groups' belief that the Tax Credit Scholarship violates Florida's Constitution by redirecting taxpayer money to religious institutions. Florida's Constitution strictly prohibits state aid for religious institutions -- and a majority of students participating in the voucher program choose to attend religious private schools.
The groups also contended the voucher program was harmful to public schools and funneled much-needed funding away from public schools that need it most.
No no, said Reynolds' ruling, saying such claims were not the case. Whether any diminution of public school resources resulting from the tax credit program will actually take place is purely speculative, as is any claim that any such diminution would result in reduced per-pupil spending or in any adverse impact on the quality of education, said Reynolds' ruling.
The Florida Legislature created the voucher program in 2001 under then-Gov. Jeb Bush. Since then, thousands of students have attended different schools using the voucher money, and Bush himself often refers to the program as one of his greatest accomplishments as governor of Florida. Bush even highlighted his involvement in the program during his announcement for president Monday afternoon.
The suit has lost support in recent weeks as other organizations originally filing as plaintiffs, like the Florida School Boards Association, have decided not to press forward in the appeals process.
Parents whose children participate in the program said the news was unfortunate, but they vowed to press on defending the Tax Credit Scholarship program.
"While we are disappointed the plaintiffs appealed the ruling, we will defend the interests of these children all the way to the Florida Supreme Court if we need to," said attorney for the parents Howard Coker.
An appeal to the Supreme Court definitely hasn't been ruled out, either. FEA Vice President Joanne McCall has said she would take the case all the way to the state's highest court if necessary.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen.