Senator declines award from group suing to stop tax credit scholarships

Travis Pillow

The group that represents Florida’s school boards had planned to recognize the chairman of the state Senate’s education committee as its “Legislator of the Year.”

Sen. John Legg

Sen. John Legg

But after the Florida School Boards Association joined a lawsuit challenging tax credit scholarships for low-income families, Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, announced he has decided to decline the award.

“It is now apparent to me that the Association’s stance on educating low income students and access to choice in education is too conflicting with my own,” he wrote Friday in a letter to Wayne Blanton, the association’s executive director. “It saddens me that the FSBA would take a position that looks to eliminate customization in education.”

Legg’s decision is another sign the lawsuit is creating a rift between top lawmakers and the groups bringing the suit. Both current and incoming legislative leaders began denouncing the case before it was filed.

As the Senate’s top lawmaker on education policy for the past two years, Legg has been known for working closely with school districts. He has often helped keep the peace between their associations and other advocates on issues from charter schools to accountability.

In his statement responding to the lawsuit Thursday, he indicated the lawsuit betrayed the spirit of cooperation that has generally marked the Senate’s approach to education.

“Over the years and in particular the last legislative session, I have worked, in good faith, with many that now wish to eliminate school choice for all,” he said. “It is apparent that these groups were disingenuous with their efforts and have put their political views over that of our students’ needs.”

In his letter to Blanton, Legg writes that he has a “sincere hope” the school boards association “will abandon this hostile view toward low income students and customization.”

“Please know having grown up in a very low income household, my position will always be to advocate for access, quality, and customization for all students, but especially for those who don’t have the resources to access a quality education,” he wrote.

The tax credit scholarship program helps low-income students afford private-school tuition. It is administered by organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

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Parent and Teacher August 30, 2014 - 6:51 pm

The voucher is now for low AND middle income students. This isn’t about poor children anymore. It is disingenuous to suggest otherwise. You should have kept this program small and it would never have been challenged. Or, instead if a tax credit, fund the program with charitable contributions. As it exists it is a violation of the FL constitution.

Patrick R. Gibbons
Patrick R. Gibbons September 2, 2014 - 12:51 pm

Hi Parent and Teacher,

The higher income threshold doesn’t start until the 2016-17 school year and even then it is a partial scholarship and can only be awarded once all lower income scholarships have been awarded.

The highest amount would be 260 percent of the Federal Poverty level (significantly lower than eligibility for Obama’s new health care initiative). It comes to about $62,000 for a family of four. That is like two parents, with two children, working for less than $15 an hour.

You will need to articulate why a tax-credit is unconstitutional but a tax deduction is not. I think you might have a hard time with that.

Mark Halpert August 31, 2014 - 12:41 pm

Even Andrew Coulson from the CATO Institute indicated that in 10 years this program will have 300,000 kids and it will be the tipping point — the end of public education as we know it — The Florida School Board Association has no choice — they must take legal action and if a good Senator like John Legg chooses to pass on an award — so be it

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