The Florida Legislature and parents of special needs students won a legal victory over the statewide teachers union on Tuesday, as a Leon County judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging school choice legislation passed earlier this year.
Lawyers for the Florida Education Association argued lawmakers violated the state constitution when they passed SB 850, which created new Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts for special needs students and expanded eligibility for the Florida tax credit scholarship program.
The case turned on the issue of standing. Judge Charles Francis had already ruled once that the case should be dismissed, but he gave the teachers union’s lawyers a chance to rework their legal arguments. They contended they had standing to bring the case because they were taxpayers and suffered a special injury because expanding the tax credit scholarship program would hurt funding for public schools.
Francis ruled Tuesday that the plaintiffs, including a Southwest Florida public-school teacher, did not have standing to challenge the law as taxpayers and could not show the new law caused them any “special injury.” As a result, he decided the case – Faasse v. Scott – should be dismissed.
The same legal issues have come up in a separate, closely watched school choice lawsuit in Florida. In that case, the teachers union and other groups are arguing Florida’s tax credit scholarship program is unconstitutional.
Lawyers for the state, however, have argued that case – McCall v. Scott – should be dismissed because the union cannot show harm to a legally protected interest. Opposing the scholarship program is not enough.
Daniel Woodring, a Tallahassee attorney representing scholarship parents, said Tuesday’s ruling supports the idea that the tax credit scholarship lawsuit should also be dismissed.
“On behalf of the families using Tax Credit Scholarships and PLSA accounts, we are thankful that Chief Judge Francis dismissed the challenge to SB850 – holding the unions had no standing to challenge that bill – especially since this ruling supports the argument that the union also has no standing to challenge the tax credit scholarship program in the McCall case,” he said.
Both the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts and the Florida tax credit scholarship program are administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.