A Tallahassee judge was wrong to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the country’s largest private school choice program, lawyers for Florida’s statewide teachers union are arguing in appellate court.
In court papers filed Friday with the First District Court of Appeal, they say two court rulings, cited by Judge George Reynolds when he dismissed the lawsuit earlier this year, should not apply in this case.
Rulings in both of those earlier cases — one from the U.S. Supreme Court and one from the New Hampshire Supreme Court — rejected challenges to tax credit scholarship programs. The courts held groups challenging the programs could not show the scholarships caused harm without engaging in “speculation.”
Reynolds cited their reasoning in his May ruling. He found plaintiffs’ claims about Florida’s program harming public schools were “speculative” because it was not clear how students accepting scholarships to attend private would affect individual public schools’ budgets, or the Legislature’s decisions about funding.
Lawyers for the Florida Education Association argue this case is different.
“[T]he Scholarship Program is designed to, and does in fact, draw tens of thousands of students from Florida’s public schools and that as a result the budgets of those schools are directly and substantially harmed to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars,” they write. “This unquestionably harms the persons associated with those schools.”
The program’s impact on public school finances may not be so clear-cut. While the school district may not be paid for students on a tax credit scholarship, districts do not have to bear the expense of educating those students. As state Board of Education member Gary Chartrand noted in a recent newspaper column, if the scholarship program were to end, it could create new financial strain for school districts already facing jumps in enrollment.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers, however, argue they are claiming “specific, non-speculative injuries, which must be taken as true” by the courts. They also repeat their argument that the tax credit scholarship program is a “successor” to a separate voucher program the Florida Supreme Court struck down in 2006. The tax credit scholarship program was created in 2001.
Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post, helps administer Florida’s tax credit scholarship program.
The legal proceedings at this point are focused on whether the groups behind the lawsuit have standing to bring the case.