Florida’s largest teachers union is appealing a court decision upholding the state’s tax credit scholarship program.
Florida launched the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (FTCSP) in 2001 to provide students of low-income households with scholarships worth up to $5,886 per year to spend on private school tuition. Corporations that donate to the scholarship program receive a tax credit on corporate income and insurance premium taxes. The program awarded 92,011 scholarships for the 2016–17 school year.
The Florida Education Association (FEA) and others sued the state in 2014, claiming FTCSP is unconstitutional because it violates the state’s Blaine amendment, which prohibits public money from funding religious institutions, and alleging the scholarships fail to fulfill a constitutional provision mandating “a uniform … system of free public schools.”
In May 2015, a circuit court judge dismissed the case, ruling the plaintiffs failed to show FTCSP harmed public education. In August 2016, a three-judge panel reaffirmed the 2015 ruling.
FEA announced in September it would ask the Florida Supreme Court to hear its appeal.
FEA ‘Does Not Want to Compete’
Richard Komer, a senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, says FEA fears FTCSP’s success.
“The FEA is concerned that the program is too successful,” Komer said. “The program continues to create competitive pressures on the school district, which would much rather not have competitive pressure. No monopoly wants to compete.”
Program ‘Empowers Parents’
State Rep. Chris Sprowls (R-Pinellas) says FTCSP lets parents decide what works for their children.
“The program really empowers parents to make the choice as to what’s best for their children,” Sprowls said. “I don’t think anyone believes a one-size-fits-all mentality is good for children. If this gives parents a way to give their child a great education and a pathway to prosperity, then we should all be supportive of that.”
‘Educate Your Friends’
Sprowls says it’s important for parents whose children benefit from FTCSP to let everyone know.
“I would say [to parents] to be hopeful, to let people know how the tax credit scholarship has changed their child’s life or their family’s life,” Sprowls said. “I think there are a lot of people who don’t know the impact it has had on families. Be hopeful that the Supreme Court will make a right decision, but also use this as an opportunity to educate your friends and neighbors, whether on social media or at the grocery store, about how this has a positive impact on your child’s life.”
‘What’s Best for Kids’
Opponents of the program are not concerned about Florida’s children, Sprowls says.
“I don’t think their filing this lawsuit has anything to do with what’s best for kids,” Sprowls said. “The focus should be on the child, not on an education system or a bureaucracy or a union. It should be on what is best for the child.”
Komer says artificial monopolies, such as those sought by teachers unions, don’t benefit society.
“I don’t know any economist who thinks monopolies don’t result in low quality and high cost,” Komer said.
Mary C. Tillotson ([email protected]) writes from Michigan.