Parents of 70,000 low-income students in Florida won a major legal victory today when a judge sided with them in favor of the nation’s largest private school choice program. Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds ruled that the Florida teachers union, Florida School Boards Association and other plaintiffs did not have standing to proceed in a suit that seeks to dismantle the state’s 14-year-old tax credit scholarship program. Fifteen scholarship parents from around the state intervened in the case to help the defense.
“The scholarship program has always been about giving more educational options to the children who need the most help, and not an attack on public schools,” said Rev. H.K. Matthews, a civil rights icon in north Florida. “Judge Reynolds’s ruling points us towards a day, long in coming, when we can finally and fully see how public and private options complement each other, and how they, together, can better ensure the success of all of our children.”
“There was never any doubt,” said Marlene Desdunes, a public school teacher and parent of children who benefit from tax credit scholarships students in Miami. “My union had no good reason to sue. Students and parents deserve educational options and all teachers know that students learn in different ways.”
The lawsuit questioned the constitutionality of the tax credit scholarship, and argued that the program is similar to a voucher program that was struck down in 2006 by the Florida Supreme Court. But Judge Reynolds wrote that, unlike the previous voucher program, the scholarship does not involve a state appropriation. He wrote that the plaintiffs did not prove they are harmed by the scholarship and that any claim of a negative impact on public school budgets is “speculative.” His decision follows a ruling in December by Leon Circuit Judge Charles Francis, who rejected similar claims of standing in a lawsuit attempting to invalidate a new law that strengthened the Tax Credit Scholarship program.
The judge dismissed the case “with prejudice,” which means the plaintiffs, should they continue to pursue the case, will have to appeal to the First District Court of Appeal.
“Judge Reynolds followed the case in Florida and beyond,” said Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps administer the scholarship. “It’s hard to ignore that he found that not a single public school student is harmed by this scholarship and yet, if the union succeeds, the result is that 70,000 of the state’s most vulnerable students would be removed from private schools that are working for them.”
The scholarship program is funded by corporate contributions that are donated in return for dollar-for-dollar tax credits. That key legal distinction has led the U.S. Supreme Court and state supreme courts in Arizona, New Hampshire and Alabama to dismiss similar lawsuits on similar grounds. No state court has ever ruled against a tax credit scholarship.
About Save Our Scholarships
The Save Our Scholarships Coalition was formed to protect the futures of Florida’s poorest students and the rights of parents to choose the best school for their child. The statewide coalition is calling on Florida’s teachers union, the Florida School Board Association and others to #DropTheSuit attacking the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The Save Our Scholarship Coalition includes representation from the following organizations:
• The Black Alliance For Educational Options (BAEO)
• The Hispanic Council For Reform and Educational Options (HCREO)
• The Alliance For School Choice
• Agudath Israel of Florida
• The Florida Black Ministers Parental Choice Alliance
• The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America
For more information, please visit www.saveourscholarships.com.
About the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program
The Florida Legislature founded the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship Program in 2001, and gave hope to low-income Florida families by giving them a voice in their children’s education, and an opportunity for a better future. This innovative program allows corporations with certain Florida tax liabilities to redirect a portion of those funds to a scholarship program approved by the Florida Department of Education (DOE) in exchange for a dollar-for-dollar tax credit.
For the 2014-2015 school year, nearly 70,000 students across Florida are attending a school chosen by their parents. More than 70 percent are minorities, and their average family income is just 5 percent above the poverty level. Data shows scholarship students were typically the ones who struggled the most in public schools, but are now making solid progress in their new schools. Studies also show that the program saves taxpayer money, in large part because the value of the scholarship ($5,272 this year) is roughly half what taxpayers spend per-pupil in public schools.
For more information, please visit www.floridaschoolchoice.org.