The week after a Leon County judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging Florida school choice legislation, attorneys for scholarship parents are asking a court to reject a separate lawsuit challenging the state’s tax credit scholarship program for similar reasons.
In court papers filed Tuesday, they argue the newer lawsuit, McCall v. Scott, should similarly be dismissed, in part because the statewide teachers union and other groups cannot show the scholarship program harms public schools.
“There is no reason to reach a different result in this case, where plaintiffs rely on the same purported showing of special injury,” the motion states. “As in Faasse (the previous case), plaintiffs assert that they are ‘injured by the scholarship program’s diversion of resources from the public schools.'”
Judge George Reynolds last month allowed the parents to enter the legal fray on the same footing as the groups challenging the 13-year-old program, which serves nearly 70,000 low-income students in more than 1,500 private schools this year. The groups behind the lawsuit argue the tax credit scholarship program is an unconstitutional “replacement” for a school voucher program the state Supreme Court struck down in 2006.
Building on the arguments made by the lawyers for the state, the parents’ lawyers counter that there are key differences between the Opportunity Scholarship Program the high court rejected in Bush v. Holmes (which was directly funded through the state budget) and the tax credit scholarship program (which is funded by private donations from companies in exchange for a reduction in their state tax bills).
“The Tax Credit Scholarship Program does not draw on tax dollars ‘earmarked for public education’ or any other source of public funds,” the parents’ legal filing states.
They cite an appeals court’s ruling in the Holmes case, which noted that tax exemptions for religious institutions are “substantially different” from direct state spending. Because the program does not steer state money to private schools, they argue the plaintiffs don’t have standing as taxpayers to challenge the program.
They also argue the groups challenging the law “have not plausibly alleged that the public schools have suffered a financial hardship as a result of the Tax Credit Scholarship Program.” When the union’s lawyers argue the program could harm public schools, they “fail to account for the Legislature’s additional appropriations to the public school system and for the cost savings” the program has helped achieve, the parents’ legal filing argues.
Reynolds is set to hear arguments in the lawsuit Feb. 9 in Tallahassee.