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Politics

Florida Education Association Appeals Dismissal of Voucher Program Lawsuit

June 15, 2015 - 5:15pm

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 allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen.

Comments

The arguments for and against vouchers largely miss the main point: it is about the money! The teachers unions want the money; the Democrats want the money they get from the unions. parents want better education for their children and vouchers give them a chance to move their kids to a better school. Teachers unions and Democratic Party operatives could not care less about education. I saw a debate between a teachers union president and Dick Army when Army asked him why he won't address the students education and the union guy answered," when the students start paying union dues, we'll represent them." To the unions and Dem politicians It's the money, not about student learning. Ideally, ALL parents would be given vouchers to sent their children to ANY school.

Union bosses versus children. Yeah that's a winning headline. If you want more money in the classroom then stop suing and use that money for schools instead of lawyers.

Florida's republicants are admitting that they are unable to fix public education and that their only solution is a system of seperate and unequal, that only helps a small percentage of students, maybe. The voucher system allows corporations to put tax money into the vouchers instead of making a tax payment, so it is indeed state tax funds. Why not just fix the schools so all students benefit?

I think that it is time to enforce Florida's "Right to Work" and disavow the Teachers' Union and the rest of the Public Sector Unions. They are an unnecessary burden on the Florida taxpayers and all collective bargaining should be eliminated. Just like in the real world we increase our income by providing more value to our employers. Teaching is what is known as a "Personal Service." By law it cannot be delegated, meaning that it is the individual who is responsible for providing the service and the having collective bargaining is a violation of the "Personal Service Contract." As a teacher, if you join a union, you become nothing but a commodity like shampoo, where one is as good as another. You should be thinking that you are better than that.

This is EXACTLY what is wrong with Labor Unions: 135,000 members OPPOSE PROGRESS regarding even members of their own family members in many cases. The 'union dues' collected from the 135,000 Union membership collectively is used for POLITICAL PURPOSES regardless of the wishes of individual members; this is a twisted & flawed use of Union Funds that "feeds" the Union and NOT the membership.

A separate but equal problem is that students transfer from public schools (failing to meet accountability standards) using public funds to attend private schools (religious or not) with NO REQUIREMENT to be held accountable for student progress. How can the public really know that these students are better off? Only by mandating the same accountability measures required of public schools, which, for state-certified teachers, means the potential loss of job and career. I wonder how many private schools would agree to take these students if the stakes were that high? Some of these students are simply not able to pass grade-level tests for a number of valid reasons - it is not that the students are being ill-served in all cases. The law currently gives public schools very little leeway to make a case for such students. How can a student who recently moved to the U.S. from Colombia and only speaks Spanish be expected to pass a lengthy and challenging, 5th-grade reading test in English? How can a student with an IQ score below 75 be expected to pass a grade-level test of any kind year after year? Seem a bit odd? Not according to state mandates. Can private schools do any better? Let the same test prove it, one way or another.

The argument that low-income children may help low-income children is beside the point and irrelevant. The Fl. Constitution, which Jebbie ignored, specifically prohibits tax dollars being used as vouchers to support religious schools. I deeply resent my tax dollars being used to facilitate such indoctrination. Wonder how Jebbie will react to the national press as opposed to the Fl. syncophants-when he crows about his "signature achievement".

It is really scary and sad when a Teachers Union fights against a private scholarship that benefits low income students! The funds for the Step Up scholarships come from private companies directly, not from state or federal monies. Read about the background of the scholarship here: https://stepupforstudents.org/about-us/history.

Is the only solution teachers and their organization (the FEA) can support is more, more and more money to THEIR schools? Florida's voucher program has helped 70,000 students achieve more. It has also made the public {FEA) schools realize how far behind they are. By the way, many of the voucher receiving schools do better with less funding per student. The FEA stands alone in wishing vouchers gone. Both school board associations support vouchers through withdrawing or not ever supporting the FEA lawsuit. It is time the FEA worked toward improving how Florida teachers practice their profession and not just complaining.

Why not help All students! Why only save 70,000 of them? Why not FUND public schools. Those who think they do better for less are misinformed. They deny ANY kid who need special services. Special services cost more. They get teachers who are paid way less.....thius saving money. They only take " good" kids. Our teachers are great! Sounds like many of you drank the reformers kool aide who say our schools are failing. Our government withholds funds from schools who need it the most. They steal money from our poor schools because they are not making the grade. Most of the issues that plague our schools are due to the effects of poverty. Many voucher kids return to public schools. Why aren't these voucher schools held to the same accountable standards as public schools. They take our FTE and then send the kids back.. A big scam! Do Your Research!

We have no idea if the students are better off because private schools are exempt from state testing.

Vouchers steal money from poor kids by robbing Peter (our public schools) to pay Paul (private for profit schools). Why save only some kids? Why not save them all and fund public schools equitably.

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