Florida school boards’ group votes to withdraw from school choice lawsuit

Travis Pillow

Leaders of a second public school association have decided to walk away from the lawsuit challenging the nation’s largest private school choice program.

During a meeting this afternoon in Tampa, the Florida School Boards Association’s board of directors voted 21-9 not to support a possible appeal of a circuit court judge’s ruling dismissing the case.

Members of the board, which consists of elected school board members from around the state, said school choice supporters had flooded their inboxes, challenged them at the polls, criticized them in the press and diminished their influence in the state Legislature since the lawsuit was filed in August.

Several members who voted not to proceed with the appeal still criticized the tax credit scholarship program, which helps 70,000 low-income students attend private schools. Step Up For Students, which employs the author of this post, helps administer the program.

“I am proud to be a member of an organization that is willing to stand up for traditional public schools,” said Claudia Jimenez, a member of the Indian River County School Board. While she supported the organization’s stance, she added, the lawsuit and the resulting pushback were “distracting us from the work that we need to do.”

Another public school group, the Florida Association of School Administrators, left the lawsuit earlier this year. The Florida Association of District School Superintendents declined to join the lawsuit when it was first filed in August.

On May 18, Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds ruled that the groups behind the suit, which also include the statewide teachers union, the Florida PTA and other groups, did not have standing to challenge the program.

Ron Meyer, one of the plaintiffs’ leading attorneys, said the Florida Education Association would likely decide by early next week whether it would appeal the ruling. The union’s leaders have previously indicated they would appeal the issue to the state Supreme Court, if necessary.

Meyer said the school board’s group could play an important role in the case, because the law requires school districts to inform parents about the school choice program. He said that undermines their local authority.

“It gets to who runs the schools: Do you, under Article IX (of the state constitution), or does the Legislature?” he told the group.

When the appeal came up for debate, Tina Calderone, a member of the Seminole County School Board, said she believes parents should be able to choose the best schools for their children. She said school board members, as advocates of public education, should work to make sure all parents are pleased with district schools.

“Who wouldn’t want to choose our schools, because we are the best solution, we are the best option,” she said, supporting the decision not to pursue the appeal. Instead, she said school board members should “focus on our public schools” and help them improve.

The Save Our Scholarships Coalition just released a statement from Howard Coker, an attorney for the 15 scholarship families that have intervened in the lawsuit: “I commend the FSBA on their decision. It is truly in the best interest of not just the scholarship children, but all schoolchildren — including those in the public schools.”

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1 comment

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Toni Richardson June 10, 2015 - 6:48 pm

great article Travis!

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