The Florida Education Association, the state’s main teachers union, is reviving its failed lawsuit against expansion of the state’s tax credit scholarship program aiding special needs students. A circuit court judge said the original lawsuit did not have legal standing and struck it down. It was one of two suits recently filed by the FEA.
The union has since tweaked its complaint, claiming the expansion steals funds from public schools, and adding three parents as plaintiffs, in addition to the original plaintiff, social-studies teacher Tom Faassee. The new complaint still implies that school voucher money is being taken out of public funds.
The new Personal Learning Scholarship Account program is part of the existing tax credit scholarship program, through which corporations receive a state tax credit worth a certain percentage of what they donate to nonprofit organizations offering private school scholarships to low-income families. Thus, all scholarship funds come from private donations.
Uncertainty Created for Parents
“We are disappointed the FEA wants to continue this lawsuit, as it creates more uncertainty for parents of special needs children that have accepted and intend to use the new Personal Learning Scholarship Account program,” said Patrick Gibbons, public affairs manager at Step Up For Students, an organization that awards education tax scholarships in Florida. “Nearly 1,200 children with significant special needs have been awarded a PLSA for the 2014-15 school year.”
Although the expansion is now established by law, the suit creates uncertainty about the future. Gibbons notes the law expanding the PSLA program serves other purposes as well.
“SB 850 also expanded the tax credit scholarship program to allow for partial scholarships for working-class children—half-scholarships for children in households up to 260 percent of poverty. That is about $60,000 for a family of four.”
The expansion also allows foster-care children to keep their scholarships if they are adopted, and it permits a small increase in the scholarship amount.
An Attack on Educational Choice
Patricia Levesque, chief executive officer of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, expressed frustration over the FEA simply adding three parents to the same lawsuit.
“It was not surprising, but no less disappointing, that the Florida Education Association continued its attack on educational choices for Florida’s most vulnerable families,” Levesque said. “More than 70,000 children are going to have an improved opportunity to succeed in life thanks to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program and Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts. The FEA claims this threatens injury to three parents and a social studies teacher.
“It’s hard to fathom the callousness of an attempt to take these life-changing opportunities away from children,” she said.
The FEA’s other lawsuit, in alliance with a handful of other organizations, challenges the overall constitutionality of Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, claiming it provides public funds to religious institutions. The union’s lawsuit also claims the program does not maintain “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education,” as the state constitution dictates it must.
Chris Neal ([email protected]) writes from New York, New York.
Image by Ronny Richert.
FEA Complaint Against Florida Scholarship Program; Leon County Circuit Court in Florida, Oct. 21, 2014: http://heartland.org/policy-documents/fea-complaint-against-florida-scholarship-program-leon-county-circuit-court-florida