Parents intervene in lawsuit to defend Florida tax credit scholarships

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tax credit scholarship anti-lawsuit rally
Students protest a lawsuit challenging Florida tax credit scholarships during an August rally in Tallahassee.

Fifteen parents are asking a Florida circuit court to allow them to help defend the country’s largest private school choice program against a constitutional challenge.

Between them, the parents have 32 children who attend private schools using Florida’s tax credit scholarship program. Many of them also have children in other choice programs – McKay scholarships for special needs students, Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts, or charter schools – which their lawyers contend would also be threatened by the legal arguments in the case.

The parents include a single mother on disability from Gadsden County, a former teachers union organizer, and a doctor’s assistant who fled Venezuela after the election of Hugo Chavez. They plan to intervene in the lawsuit to represent some 69,000 low-income students who use the scholarships to attend private schools.

They argue in court papers filed Tuesday that if the lawsuit succeeded and their children were uprooted  from their current schools, “They would suffer not merely the financial loss of the scholarships, but also a serious blow to the Low Income Families’ educational hopes for their children.”

The lawsuit, filed in late August by the statewide teachers union, the Florida School Boards Association, the NAACP, the statewide PTA and other groups, argues the tax credit scholarship program violates the state constitution by creating a parallel education system backed by public money. They also argue the program violates a prohibition on state money going to religious institutions.

In their motion to intervene, lawyers for the parents say that logic could threaten other educational options, including charter schools and special needs scholarships that also help families pay private school tuition. They point to a separate, far broader lawsuit against the state, which makes arguments challenging those other options.

In their motion, filed in Leon County Circuit Court, their lawyers note participants in the tax credit scholarship are predominantly minorities, by definition low-income, and often among the lowest-scoring students in the public schools they leave behind. Several of the parents note their children used the scholarships to escape academic turmoil or bullying.

“In the absence of the Program, the Low Income Families reasonably fear for the educational future of their children, not to mention their safety,” the legal filing states.

The other parties in McCall v. Scott have already agreed to let the parents intervene in the case, but the plaintiffs are questioning whether the parents should have the ability to participate as a full-blown party to the lawsuit.

The parents’ lawyers contend their interest in keeping their scholarships is “direct, substantial and immediate, and will not vary over the course of this litigation, whereas the (state) Defendants’ interests in this lawsuit are liable to shift with the political winds.”

A judge has dismissed a third lawsuit, challenging legislation that expanded tax credit scholarships and created the personal learning scholarship accounts, but the Florida Education Association has until next Tuesday to re-work its legal arguments.

1 COMMENT

  1. What people are forgetting to mention is that these children do not deserve to be penalized because of a decision that should have been made prior to awarding any such scholarships. These children deserve to get a quality education and if that means that it is at a private school then they should be able to continue to receive their education there. Another factor that hasn’t been discussed is those students who are in foster care and are utilizing these scholarships. My son was a former foster child who has since been adopted by myself and my family. He is a recipient of the scholarship and is able to attend the private school that his 2 sisters attend. I cannot afford to send a 3rd child to a private school due to ongoing legal expenses from the adoption and this scholarship has made his dreams and my families dreams come true. He is so excited each and everyday to go to school and absolutely loves it. Prior to receiving the scholarship we had to send him to a public school and he would constantly ask why he had to attend a different school from his sisters. It would make it difficult when my daughters school had a school event and he wasn’t able to attend because he wasn’t a student.

    If we lose this scholarship I am not sure what the outcome will be as like I said before it is very expensive to support 2 private educations and now I have taken on a 3rd child. My son attended a public school when he was first placed with us. He struggled each and everyday in class. I kept going to the school and asking for the school to test him for a learning disability or to see if it were possible that he was having difficulties with speech and language. They assured me he was doing great and that they were going to keep passing him along because they felt bad that he has had a hard life. Once my son started at the private school the teachers immediately noticed that there was something definitely going on with him either with speech and language or possibly a learning disability. My son attended the public school from December 1 – the end of the school year last year and I can’t tell you how many meetings I had to discuss what I thought was an issue in his academics only to be turned down and basically told that there was nothing going on. My son has only been attending the private school since mid September and he is already receiving ESE services as well as testing and screenings to determine where the deficiencies are in his learning. If this scholarship is taken away it would literally break his heart to know that he would have to go back to a public school and not be able to attend school with his 2 sisters. It would also be very heartbreaking for me as a parent to have to make a decision on how I am going to either afford to send a 3rd child to the private school or explain to him that I will try my best to figure something out. Prior to our adoption my daughters have attended the private school for years and it would not be fair to have to move them out of the school because I was unable to afford to send another child to the school.

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