Heartland Institute
“One Lawsuit Down in Florida Voucher Challenge”
February 6, 2015
By Chris Neal Florida’s tax credit scholarship program scored another legal victory against one of the lawsuits put forth by the state’s largest teachers union in an ongoing battle against the program. At the end of December, Circuit Chief Judge Charles Francis tossed out a suit challenging the expansion of the program, which created “personal learning scholarship accounts” for students with special needs. This lawsuit was a reworked version of a similar dismissed lawsuit.The suit, filed by Florida Education Association (FEA) member Tom Faasse, claimed that the program was in violation of state law claiming that the program siphons money away from traditional public schools. As of now, the FEA does not plan to challenge this portion of the scholarship program again, but another lawsuit is still in play that challenges the program as a whole.Bill Mattox, a resident fellow at Florida’s James Madison Institute, said while one lawsuit has been dismissed the fight over this school choice program will continue.“In short, the FEA has been attacking the tax credit scholarship program with two different lawsuits,” Mattox said. “The one the courts threw out [for a second time] in December was always believed to be a weaker case.  The FEA has abandoned that case and has said it won’t try again on it. Regrettably, the FEA is continuing to pursue the other lawsuit [which is a constitutional case—the one they abandoned was a legislative procedure case].”Public Money Drained?The other suit makes the argument that the program is unconstitutional. Opponents of the program are pointing to two sections in the Florida constitution in particular. Article I, Section 3, states: “no revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.” Article IX, Section 1states that: “adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education and for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.”For their other lawsuit to prevail, the FEA will have to prove that the state’s tax credit scholarships cause the draining of public money. Patricia Levesque, CEO of The Foundation for Excellence in Education, doubts they will be successful, since this is not how the program works.The tax credit program began after the state Supreme Court case Bush v. Holmes, in which the courts ruled that the state could not fund vouchers with public money. Today, there are nearly 70,000 Florida students enrolled in a private school using the program, which gives a tax deduction to private companies when they donate to scholarship organizations.“You’d think after 14 years of seeing the result, it’s even more shocking,” Levesque said. “They will continue to attack low-income students and parents and their efforts to find schools that best fit their children’s’ needs, extremely disappointing.”Chris Neal (cdobro245@gmail.com) writes from New York, New York.Article: http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2015/02/06/one-lawsuit-down-florida-voucher-challenge