TALLAHASSEE– An appeals court has ruled against the Florida Education Association’s (FEA) claim that a de-facto school voucher system funding thousands of students' private school education looks bad for public schools.
The FEA is deciding whether or not to appeal the decision again after a 1st District Court of Appeals threw out the case this past summer, citing that the teacher’s union and other groups involved in the suit do not have “standing,” to legally file a lawsuit.
“The judges have ruled only on standing – saying that FEA and all the other partners who have brought suit do not meet legal standing to sue,” Mark Pudlow, spokesperson for FEA, told the Florida Record. “We believe that if the judges had allowed the merits of the case to be argued, we would prevail that this voucher scheme is unconstitutional, just as the courts ruled in 2006 in the Bush v. Holmes case.”
The appeals court rejected arguments that the latest de-facto school voucher brings harm to the Florida public school system.
“It’s the job of the judiciary to act as a check and balance on the legislative and executive branches of government,” FEA President Joanne McCall said in a statement about the 2014 lawsuit that was rejected by two lower court rulings. “A decade ago, the courts ruled that a previous voucher scheme was unconstitutional. They should examine this voucher plan, as well.”
Although a similar ruling occurred in the past, the appeals court says the current corporate tax credit scholarships are different. Instead of funneling state money directly to private schools, the new framework allows corporations to contribute to organizations that then provide scholarships to students. The state provides tax credits in return.
“If we really believe that kids are not getting the access that they need, then it’s the Florida legislature’s responsibility to make sure that every public school is a high-quality public school,” McCall said.
A group formed to challenge the organizations opposing the school voucher program – Save Our Scholarships Coalition – and others marched in protest against the FEA and other teacher unions involved in the case, in hopes that they would drop the lawsuit.
“Every year, the advocates for vouchers take children out of school and bus them up to Tallahassee to show their support for getting state money for voucher schools,” Pudlow said. “This year, organizers bragged that they spent more than $1 million on the display. Wouldn’t that money be better spent on educating the children?”
Although the judges cannot determine if the extra money that goes toward scholarships would be put into the public school system, Pudlow begs to differ.
“Public schools in Florida are seriously underfunded when compared to other states,” he said. “This would be a decision of the legislature and we would hope that lawmakers would understand the great need to provide adequate funding for public education, as is required by the Florida Constitution.”
Should the FEA and other organizations appeal again, the de-facto school voucher program could be challenged in the Supreme Court.