Duval Republicans take aim at FSBA over school choice suit

Ron Matus

The Republican leadership in one of Florida’s biggest counties passed a resolution Monday night condemning the Florida School Boards Association and other groups for filing suit against the state’s tax credit scholarship program and potentially snuffing out academic options for nearly 70,000 low-income students.



The strongly-worded resolution by the Republican Executive Committee in Duval County, a conservative stronghold that includes the city of Jacksonville, calls on all registered Republicans to stand in opposition to the suit. It also urges those elected to serve on school boards to “take all appropriate measures to force the Florida School Boards Association to remove itself as a litigant.”

“They’re denying children an opportunity to get a good education and they’re doing it strictly for dollars,” Rick Hartley, chairman of the Republican Party of Duval County, told redefinED. “They’re fighting over dollars and they don’t care about the kids. That’s not appropriate.”

The move in Duval is the latest example of pushback following the suit’s filing on Aug. 28. Florida’s 13-year-old tax credit scholarship program is the largest private school choice program in the nation, with 67,000 students enrolled this fall, nearly 70 percent of them black or Hispanic. Evidence shows the students tended to be the lowest performers in the public schools they left behind.

In the suit’s aftermath, state Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, a key education leader with a reputation for listening to all sides, declined to accept the FSBA’s “Legislator of the Year” award; state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, a moderate with close ties to teachers unions, expressed concern about the potential displacement of low-income students; and a handful of local school board members around the state penned newspaper op-eds denouncing it.

Duval isn’t the only county where Republican leaders are taking action. Last week, the executive board of the REC in neighboring, suburban Clay County passed a similar resolution, which will go before the full membership next week. Leslie Dougher, who heads the Clay REC, is also chairwoman of the Republican Party of Florida.

Hartley, the Duval chair, said he hopes the resolution in Duval sparks a debate on the school board, and forces members to state whether they are for or against the lawsuit. One member, Jason Fischer, has criticized it; two other members, Becki Couch and Paula Wright, are in FSBA leadership positions. Two weeks ago, the board dodged Fischer’s attempt to force a vote on the suit, but he said he would try again later this month.

The resolution “will help the public learn about the positions their school board members are taking,” Hartley said. “We will record the votes. And when they vote against the children, it will help us get rid of some of the sitting members.”

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