TALLAHASSEE — Newly elected state House Speaker Richard Corcoran has asked the Florida Education Association to drop its lawsuit against a voucher-like program that is accused of draining money that would better be spent going to public schools.
Corcoran, a Republican from Land O'Lakes, called the suit "evil," according to a Nov. 23 Gainesville Sun article, and made additional inflammatory remarks against the organization.
“Attorneys for the state and a group of parents asked the Florida Supreme Court … to reject a lawsuit challenging a program that helps pay for tens of thousands of children to attend private schools,” the Sun article said.
Corcoran argued that the criticized programs are actually helping students get better educations, and the lawsuit threatens more options for underprivileged students.
“Most of them are minorities, and all of them are poor. ... It is downright evil," he said.
Despite his criticism, the FEA is working on Supreme Court precedent.
“Opponents of the program have focused heavily on a 2006 Supreme Court ruling that found unconstitutional a voucher program championed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush,” the Sun article said. “(Florida Attorney General Pam) Bondi's office and the intervenors argued that the programs are different, with the Bush-era ‘Opportunity Scholarship Program’ involving direct payments from the state to private schools.”
The union’s lawsuit argues that both programs have led to improperly diverting money to private schools, which drains much-needed finds from public schools.
A Nov. 27 Orlando Weekly article said that Corcoran further attacked the FEA, saying the suit would harm the lives of 100,000 children.
Corcoran later criticized the union's concept of fair treatment of educational options as “completely false," the Weekly article reported.
In contrast, the union law suit argues that funding is being improperly funneled.
“The lawsuit argues that the program drains money that otherwise would go to public schools and is unconstitutional for the same reasons that the Florida Supreme Court struck down a previous voucher scheme,” the Weekly article said.
Minority Leader Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, was taken aback by Corcoran’s statements.
"It was aggressive," Cruz said in an interview with the Weekly. "I didn't expect to hear any of that today, and I didn't expect for teachers to be villainized. ... I certainly don't think that teachers are evil. I think that teachers are amazing, and I was disappointed to hear that."
Democratic leaders reinforced their support for the lawsuit in a statement.
The union also released its own statement, staying firm on its efforts to continue with the suit, but offering a forum for civil debate.
"The Florida Education Association firmly believes that people of opposing views should always engage in civil debate on issues," FEA President Joanne McCall said in a statement issued by the union. "We would welcome the opportunity to discuss with Speaker Corcoran the reasons FEA has engaged the court in the voucher program. We are here when and if the speaker would like to hear from us."
The new legislative session will start March 7.