The Florida Education Association will appeal lower court rulings on the constitutionality of the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program which gives vouchers to low-income students, the FEA announced Wednesday.
“We’re frustrated that the court will not even allow us to argue the merits of this case,” said FEA President Joanne McCall. “The lower courts have ruled that teachers and our partners in this lawsuit aren’t allowed to challenge the constitutionality of the tax credit vouchers. It’s the job of the judiciary to act as a check and balance on the legislative and executive branches of government. A decade ago, the courts ruled that a previous voucher scheme was unconstitutional. They should examine this voucher plan as well.”
Last month, the 1st District Court of Appeal said the plaintiffs, which include the FEA and other groups, have not been harmed by the program, which provides “scholarships” for low-income students (who are mostly minorities) to attend private schools statewide. Many of the private schools are religious.
A Leon County Circuit Court judge ruled similarly in May 2015.
The FEA alleges Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program violates the state’s constitution and funnels away important tax dollars from public schools as a result of the growing program.
Corporations fund the entire voucher program, which launched in Florida in 2001. Companies then receive a tax break in return for their participation.
Since its inception, the voucher program has become one of the largest tax credit scholarship programs in the country. Around 80,000 students currently participate in the Tax Credit Scholarship program, with the average scholarship equaling around $5,800. Over 1,600 schools participate in the Tax Credit Scholarship program statewide.
The program hasn't been met without criticisms from the state’s largest teacher’s union. The FEA re-filed the lawsuit in 2014.
On Wednesday, the FEA blasted the program as a “scheme” and said it was an attempt by the Florida Legislature to have a state program pay for students to attend “largely unregulated private schools,” directing money away from public schools.
The FEA insists courts are “too afraid” to hear the case.
“It’s important that the court listen to our arguments and make a definitive ruling on this case,” McCall said. “Those who support the tax credit vouchers have been waging a campaign on the state’s editorial pages and on the airwaves, but they have fought vigorously against hearing the merits of the case in the courts. Why are they so afraid of having the case heard in court?”
Supporters of the scholarships said they were disheartened by Wednesday's news.
“We are very disappointed that the union will continue its effort to evict over 92,000 poor, mostly minority children from schools that are working for them,” said Bishop Victory Curry of Save Our Scholarships. “These children were the worst performers at the public schools they left, and now they are thriving. The union’s decision is wrong for the children, and wrong for our public schools.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.