Education

Florida Teachers Union Files Lawsuit Over Controversial Voucher Bill

By: Allison Nielsen | Posted: July 17, 2014 3:55 AM
Leon County Circuit Court

Florida’s legislative session may be over for the year, but the controversy over a bill to expand the state’s voucher program is just heating up. On Wednesday, the largest teachers' union in the state filed a lawsuit against the governor, members of the Cabinet and Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart over the recently-passed legislation, claiming its many added provisions make it unconstitutional.

Tom Faasse of the Florida Education Association filed the lawsuit in Leon County Court over the bill, which passed on the last day of this year's legislative session.

The legislation, SB 850, started out as a five-page bill in February and originally aimed to expand Florida's collegiate high school program -- but as the legislation made its way through various committees in the Florida House and Senate, additional measures kept on getting tacked onto the legislation, eventually resulting in the bill expanding to 40 pages addressing a variety of issues related to education.

Some of the more controversial provisions -- like the creation of scholarships for students with special needs -- saw trouble when they were brought on as stand-alone bills. The second-to-last day before the end of the legislative session, the scholarship provision and other measures were added onto SB 850.

Under the Florida Constitution, the Legislature has restricted authority to create laws and each law must "embrace but one subject" which should also be expressed in the bill's title.

The FEA alleges that the legislation violates this rule because SB 850 contains too many subjects and does not adequately express them in its title.

FEA Vice President Joanne McCall expressed discontentment over the last-minute additions.

“It’s an outrage that corporate voucher expansion was tacked onto an unrelated bill and slipped into law on the session’s final day,” McCall said.

House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, gave a thumbs up to the FEA’s legal action.

“[This lawsuit] brings to light what I believe was the Republicans’ last-minute hijacking of a bipartisan education reform bill to revive their plan to expand vouchers,” he said. “Hopefully, the courts will agree that this was an unconstitutional coupling of unrelated education provisions and reject this voucher expansion.”

But the filing caused an uproar from some education advocacy groups in the state, which called the lawsuit "a new low" for the FEA.  

"It is shameful that [the FEA] would spend teachers’ hard-earned dollars to block opportunities for our most vulnerable students," said Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Levesque also took a shot at the FEA, contending the union’s lawsuit sends a harsh message for students across the state.

“There are those who believe families should have options and trust parents in those decisions for their kids. And sadly, there are those who find educational choices threatening to their political power," said Levesque. “The FEA’s actions send a message that it is OK to overlook some students. This is wrong. The parents and students waiting in line for these options deserve better.”

Incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, also voiced criticism over the FEA’s legal action.

““I find it hard to believe that this lawsuit embodies the views of the talented teachers across our state who actually work with these children day in and day out and see the progress they are capable of making if provided the appropriate tools,” he said Wednesday. “It is unfortunate the hard-earned money our teachers contribute to the FEA is now being spent to fund litigation designed to limit educational opportunities for children across our state.””

View the complaint here.


Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at Allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen. 


Comments (2)

Frank
9:06AM JUL 17TH 2014
It's called unconstitutional logrolling . . . . and the Legislature knows better as they've lost this battle before . . . . .

Pathetic . . . .
The Swampfox
8:43AM JUL 17TH 2014
I am confused HB 7167 and SB 1512 did not pass however, parts of those bills were added to SB 850? So what's the big deal? Coming from the Western New York area I know for certain that a voucher program will provide a far better education for our children. Let the parents choose the schools not the unions choosing the cost! In the buffalo NY area the cost is almost $20,000.00 per student a year! If you went through any public school in that area you would certainly agree that the money isn't going for the kids education. The schools are trashy and like NYC's Mayor there have been attempts to shut down charter schools which incidentally are pumping out students with better educations preparing them for the future. Giving parents vouchers allows all students the ability to attend whatever school "they" choose not where the education system tells them they have to attend. My suspicion is HB 7167 and SB 1512 contained the usual sweetener's the unions and democrats always plug in their bills. Their battle cry is "IT'S ALL FOR THE CHILDREN."

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