Legal battle over vouchers headed to Florida Supreme Court

Author: The Associated Press
Published: Updated:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – The fate of Florida’s largest private school voucher program – which is offering scholarships to more than 90,000 children – is going to be decided by the state Supreme Court.

Florida’s main teacher union on Wednesday asked the high court to keep alive a two-year-old legal challenge to the program that was first established when Gov. Jeb Bush was in office. The Florida Education Association appealed an August appeals court ruling decision that found that the union and other groups have no legal standing to challenge the tax credit scholarship program.

The legal battle has been closely watched as supporters have mounted a public relations campaign to get the union to drop the lawsuit. The program has primarily served low-income families but is expanding to middle-income families this fall.

Joanne McCall, president of the FEA, said those opposed to the program should at least get a chance to have a court decide whether the program is unconstitutional.

“We’re frustrated that the court will not even allow us to argue the merits of this case,” said McCall in a statement. “It’s the job of the judiciary to act as a check and balance on the legislative and executive branches of government. A decade ago, the courts ruled that a previous voucher scheme was unconstitutional. They should examine this voucher plan as well.”

The Florida Supreme Court did throw out a separate voucher program put in place by Bush when he was first became governor in 1999. But that program offered vouchers to families with children enrolled in low-performing schools. The tax credit scholarship program allows businesses to get credits on their state tax bills if they donate to an organization that gives vouchers to children.

The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled that this structure keeps the program from violating a constitutional ban on state aid to religious institutions because it involves the taxing, and not the spending power, of the Florida Legislature. Most of the families who receive the vouchers are black or Hispanic and send their children to religious schools.

The decision to appeal the ruling isn’t a surprise. But Victor Curry, bishop of the New Baptist Church in Miami and chairman of a group fighting to keep the program, still blasted the decision to appeal the case.

“We are very disappointed that the union will continue its effort to evict more than 90,000 poor, mostly minority children from schools that are working for them,” Curry said in a statement. “These children were the worst performers at the public schools they left, and now they are thriving. The union’s decision is wrong for the children, and wrong for our public schools.”

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