Court Dismisses Suit Against Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

A lawsuit bringing into question the constitutionality of the largest school voucher program in Florida has been dismissed by the First District Court of Appeal.

According to the court, the case against the Tax Credit Scholarship Program should not be allowed to continue because the plaintiffs, which include the state teachers union and a number of advocacy groups, had no legal standing to sue as they had not been affected by the program in question.

The program offers scholarships, or vouchers, to low-income students that allow them access to private schools. The majority of the funds for the program come from corporate donations provided in exchange for credits on state tax bills, reports Leslie Postal for The Orlando Sentinel.

The court argued that the groups who sued "quarrel with the Legislature's policy judgment regarding school choice and funding of Florida's public schools." It went on to suggest that those who do not like the program should voice their opinion at the polls.

Created in 2001, the program served close to 80,000 students last year, with almost 70% of them at private religious schools. Advocates state the program offers a choice to parents whose children do not perform well in the public school system, but who cannot afford to send their kids to private schools.

The three judges ruled that the program does not violate state law. The burden of proof lay on the plaintiffs in the case, but the judges said the group was unable to prove how much public school funding was taken away as a direct result of the voucher program, reports Allison Nielsen for The Sunshine State News.

"Despite arguing that public funds have been diverted from the public school system, [the plaintiffs] make no argument whatsoever that public school funding has actually declined," wrote the judges.

Founded in an effort to battle the lawsuit, the Save Our Scholarships Foundation stated that they hope the ruling will help to end the legal challenges brought against the program.

"It's long past time for all of us who care so passionately about public education to put aside our differences and work together. This sweeping ruling should compel us to focus on the real enemies – despair, hopelessness, and the ravages of generational poverty," said Bishop Victor Curry of New Birth Baptist Church in Miami who is chairman of the Save Our Scholarships group.

Meanwhile, the Florida Education Association voiced its frustration over the ruling, stating that they are looking into whether they should appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. Joanne McCall, the union's president, argued that the court had previously found a "voucher scheme" to be unconstitutional, arguing that the court should allow teachers and parents to challenge this one as well.

The plaintiffs in the case believe the tax credit program to be unconstitutional because taxpayer money is redirected through the program to religious schools. At the same time, they say that it creates a separate system of state-funded schools.

However, the appeals court maintains that the program is not funded by direct appropriations by the Florida Legislature, and therefore, the plaintiffs did not have the "taxpayer standing" needed to challenge it.

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