Teachers union responds in Fla. tax credit scholarship lawsuit

Travis Pillow

Florida’s tax credit scholarships have “lured tens of thousands of students away from the public schools,” and hurt their bottom lines as a result, lawyers for the statewide teachers union argue in appellate court.

The legal briefs, filed yesterday, represent the latest attempt by the Florida Education Association and other groups challenging the nation’s largest school choice program to convince courts that their lawsuit has legal grounds to proceed.

A Leon County circuit court judge threw out the case last year, arguing the plaintiffs could not show the program harmed public schools, and that they did not have legal standing to challenge the scholarships simply because they were taxpayers. The union appealed, and the First District Court of Appeal is expected to hear oral arguments in the case later this year.

The scholarships are funded by private donations from companies, which receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits from the state. During the 2013-14 school year, nearly 60,000 children received some $350 million in scholarships. The union argues those children, and that money, would otherwise have gone to public schools.

Lawyers for the state, scholarship parents and the Black Alliance for Educational Options have countered that any supposed harm to public schools is, at best, “speculative.” They’ve noted the scholarships save taxpayers money, that funding for public schools has increased as the program has grown, and that school districts are not harmed because they are not being paid to educate the students who no longer attend.

The union, however, contends supporters of the program should raise those issues later. Right now, legal arguments in the case focus on whether the plaintiffs have standing, an issue that has stalled legal challenges to tax credit scholarships in other states.

Courts in Arizona and New Hampshire, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court, have found opponents of tax credit scholarships did not have a legal basis to challenge programs in their states.

Lawyers for the FEA argue those precedents don’t apply to this case, and that courts at this stage should accept their claims that the program harms public schools are true.

Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the scholarships.

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