Florida appeals court dismisses lawsuit challenging tax credit scholarships

A unanimous three-judge panel this morning dismissed a lawsuit challenging the nation’s largest private school choice program.

The First District Court of Appeal ruled the statewide teachers union and other groups did not have legal standing to challenge Florida tax credit scholarships because they “failed to allege any concrete harm whatsoever” caused by the program, which is expected to provide scholarships to more than 90,000 low-income children in the coming school year.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit, McCall v. Scott, in 2014, arguing the scholarships violated the state constitution because they supported a “parallel” public education system by offering children scholarships to attend private schools. They also argued it violated the state’s prohibition on public aid to religious institutions.

A trial court judge dismissed the case last year after finding the plaintiffs could not show the scholarship program harmed public school funding, and did not qualify for a legal exception that would have allowed them to challenge the program as taxpayers. The appellate judges agreed.

“[D]espite arguing that public funds have been diverted from the public school system, [the plaintiffs] make no argument whatsoever that public school funding has actually declined,” they wrote. Further, the court called the diversion theory “incorrect as a matter of law.”

The appellate judges held the case centered on political questions about school choice and education funding, and wrote that the ultimate “remedy is at the polls.”

“This is precisely the type of dispute into which the courts must decline to intervene under the separation of powers doctrine,” they wrote.

Joanne McCall, the president of the Florida Education Association and lead plaintiff in the case, has repeatedly attempted to liken the tax credit scholarship program to a school voucher program the state Supreme Court found unconstitutional in 2006.

In a new statement, she said the union was still deciding whether to appeal today’s decision.

“Once again, the merits of this case aren’t being argued. The court says that teachers and parents and other groups aren’t allowed to challenge the constitutionality of the tax credit vouchers,” she said. “The courts ruled a previous voucher scheme unconstitutional. Why won’t they let teachers and parents challenge this one?”

Bishop Victory Curry of New Birth Baptist Church in Miami, who serves as Chairman of the Save Our Scholarships Coalition, said he hoped the groups challenging the program could drop the lawsuit and focus on meeting the needs of low-income students.

“We call upon the plaintiffs to give priority to the 90,000 poor minority children in the program and drop the suit. It’s long past time for all of us who care so passionately about public education to put aside our differences and work together,” he said in a statement. “This sweeping ruling should compel us to focus on the real enemies – despair, hopelessness and the ravages of generational poverty.”

See coverage elsewhere: Associated Press. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel’s School Zone. Tampa Bay Times‘ Gradebook. Palm Beach Post on Politics.

Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the scholarship program. This is a quick post about a developing story. Please check back for updates.

30 Responses to Florida appeals court dismisses lawsuit challenging tax credit scholarships

  1. Amber Holley August 16, 2016 at 7:45 pm #

    My son is one of the 90,000 who use this scholarship to attend private school. I am thankful for the scholarship because at this school he is growing into an incredible young person. He went from being lost in the crowd and hating school, to loving school and feeling like he is a part of something important.

    • Doug Tuthill August 16, 2016 at 7:57 pm #

      Thanks for this message Amber. We’re glad your son is doing so well. He’s lucky to have such a great mom.

      • John Wesley August 17, 2016 at 1:55 pm #

        I feel happy for you, but I earn slightly more than the scholarship income ceiling, so my kids are forced to go to the public school system, which many of you are calling a disaster. As a honest, hardworking taxpayer, I want to know how is this is fair? Either give everyone this choice or don’t give it to anybody. Public school option is there for everybody, if it’s bad for your kids, it’s bad for my kids too.

        • Travis Pillow
          Travis Pillow August 17, 2016 at 4:03 pm #

          John,
          In 2014 the Legislature changed state law to allow partial scholarships for middle-income families that fall just above the eligibility threshold for tax credit scholarships. The rationale was exactly what you described: There are lots of middle-income families who still can’t afford thousands of dollars a year in private school tuition. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough money to offer scholarships to every family that wanted one this year, and thousands of families may still be turned away. Ideally, there would be a sliding scale, and enough money available to give all families enough scholarship support to access the best possible school options for their children. We’re just not there yet.

        • Carmen Lyons August 17, 2016 at 6:21 pm #

          Look stop being so hateful! Stop attacking our children. Public school is not for everybody! Get a life!

        • Lane Taylor August 30, 2016 at 2:00 am #

          Stop being so petty and negative and maybe you will start attracting good things to your life. Make a plan so as to be able to pay for school for your kids, live within your means and do it. I’m a single mom, earn less than the state median but carry no debt so I saved for 1 year before my son was set to start school so as to be able to send him to private school. I didn’t even know about Step Up until I registered him at school. I applied but was wait listed, which was fine because I had the money already saved. Once the school year started, I ended up receiving a partial scholarship (a direct blessing from the Lord) yet I will continue saving for next year, just in case. So don’t begrudge other people’s blessings just because you don’t have a game plan. Not their fault!

    • Martena Johnson August 17, 2016 at 11:36 am #

      Both of my sons are one of the 90,000 who have being recipients of the scholarship. My oldest have since graduated from a private high school and is now in his sophomore year at a private University in Naples Florida. This scholarship has many success stories mine children are among one of them. I am very thankful for the Step Up For Student Scholarship. Let’s continue to promote the success.

    • Linda August 17, 2016 at 5:15 pm #

      Absolutely! Although a scholarship program was available at the time (a different one which needed to be utilized in the transition from public to private which we were not aware of and chose home schooling for 7th & 8th grade before we chose private) it is a great program as the public Jr Hgh etc. is hostile and not for everyone anymore! We are failing in our public school environment and according to Federal Education every child deserves a chance to learn!!! They are required to attend!

  2. Kristi Gillette August 16, 2016 at 8:13 pm #

    My son is also a student on the scholarship and he was not receiving help in the public schools and being bullied and nothing was being done. He loves his new school and they wear uniforms to help with the grouping and bullying. The school is helping him actually learn and not to just learn so they can pass a test at end of the year.

    • Linda August 17, 2016 at 5:20 pm #

      Know that bullying well; it starts @ an early age and any child with a learning disability is red meat along with more introverted children! Regardless if 0 tolerence it is ongoing! Private is wonderful!

  3. Jeri August 16, 2016 at 8:16 pm #

    So glad this is settled in the favor of the students! Now we can focus on the real issue-education!

  4. Anonymous August 16, 2016 at 8:22 pm #

    My kids are on this scholarship. My kids are in a gated private school because of threats of violence from my ex. I picked the the school for not just educational reasons but for safety reasons. It’s too easy to find out where a child goes to school long as you are listed in the birth certificate. So my ex could walk into any school and take the kids or attack the school. My kids are loving the school and feel safe. That’s important school should be a safe place. So after seeing how easy it is to walk onto a public school campus I had to figure a way to keep my kids safe. So I am proud that my kids can to the school that they are safe at! My son has PTSD and my daughter is strong but after injunction failing I sought out the scholarships.

    • Anon Mom August 16, 2016 at 8:37 pm #

      I’m going through something similar. Look into BACA international. They have given my kids peace.

  5. Anon Mom August 16, 2016 at 8:47 pm #

    If you don’t like the scholarship program make changes in the schools. I might be poor BUT my child deserves the right to a decent education. Bullied in an A school I’m not sending her to the F school we’re zoned for. The money being spent on legal fees would be better served improving schools, eliminating bullying and getting rid of pressure on some stupid standardized test. My gifted child is flourishing in her classroom of fourteen. Don’t like religious education, improve your secular school.

    • Sarah Tompkins August 16, 2016 at 8:57 pm #

      Very well said! The public schools need to stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and fix their own problems. The school where we live was a disaster. Kids selling drugs in the bathrooms. Fights that go on so long parents can see it on Facebook and call the school before an administrator even gets there. 30 kids in a class, teachers spend half the class time yelling at students.

  6. Lilly leandre August 16, 2016 at 9:15 pm #

    I love the program because lots of kids had been benefits from it, even though I always forget to apply on time, I always remember after the deadline. Still a big thanks to all of you
    That have our children in your thoughts. As a parent I am very grateful. I wish one day my kids will also benefit from the program.

    • Anonymous August 17, 2016 at 9:01 am #

      I thank God for this opportunity that He give me scholarship for my kids, my son was on first grade on Public school that teacher Call me every single day to come to the school and sometimes for nothing she let the children do whatever they want one morning I decided to spend some time in the class room I realized what was wrong with her. After I got the scholarship I put my kids on a private school and I questioned this teacher about my son behavior she said, she never have any problem with him. When I went to teacher’s meeting all the teachers told me. The same words your kids are blessing for the school. They can do whatever they want to stop our kids from getting scholarship , but I believe My God have plan for His children.

  7. Judy Stein August 16, 2016 at 10:08 pm #

    Congratulations to the hard work of John Kirtley and all the pro-choice forces in Florida. We, the magnet advocates in the public schools were also bullied by the anti-choice forces because we allowed school choice. We now know children and parents will make the “choice” for themselves and their children! We do not know better than the child’s parent. There are great educators in the “government- public schools”–but they are not for every child.
    Many public schools teachers silently agree with this ruling. Yeah!!!!!

  8. LUZ SILVESTRINI August 16, 2016 at 10:59 pm #

    HI, MI GRANDSON AND MY NIECE USE STEP UP SCHOLARSHIP AND IS AWESOME 👌! !! GRACIAS A DIOS EXISTEN BUENAS PERSONAS EN COMPAÑIAS PRIVADAS QUE AYUDAN CON ESTAS BECAS!! LO MEJOR QUE EXISTE PARA NUESTROS HIJOS!! I’M GRATEFUL! !

  9. Paul Hinds August 17, 2016 at 12:29 am #

    My children have received this scholarship for the last four years. We have seven children adopted from foster care, of the seven three are straight A students in private school. One of my daughters who just graduated was student body president, A honor roll and voted as the top student of the entire school. She is going into high school now in a collegiate studies program. Her younger brother now entering sixth grade is working on Algebra 2, he’s wicked smart.

  10. Charlotte Mathis August 17, 2016 at 11:39 am #

    I thank God for the opportunity to send my three girls to a Christian Private School, without the mercy of Jesus, our children would be a mess, they put up with bullying, profanity, being called names, having to defend thereselves at an early age, not knowing why. I thank God for all the people, Christian lawyers, Doctors, Judges, Parents, Teachers, Supreme Courts, appellate Courts, and all those who join the fight to save our children from disaster, and the right to have a great Education, either private, or public, please make sure your children get the best Education they can possible get, because God knows it still cost money and lost of time. Be aware of what what’s going on in your schools, President Busch said “No Child Left Behind” Thank You Jesus for the People who Stand In front of the children to pave a path for there smooth walk. God Bless You All. I have been a registered voter since 18, I still vote, do you? Our children are Blessed and Highly favored, so are we and don’t even know where the blessing come from, Jesus, no one wants to acknowledge Him for His great miracles for all of us. Thanks again to all of you who are fighting for the children, and the parents, God have a Big Blessing in store for you.

  11. marie mcmahon August 17, 2016 at 2:51 pm #

    I AM SO THANKFUL FOR THIS SCHOLARSHIP FOR MY DAUGHTER SHE WAS ABLE TO GO TO PRIVATE SCHOOL AND MADE THE A &B HONOR ROLL ALL LAST YEARS.SHE HAD NEVER MADE EVEN ONE A ON ANYTHING AT PUBLIC SCHOOLS.SHE LEARNS ABOUT GOD AND HIS MANY BLESSINGS AND SHE IS VERY THANKFUL TO BLESS WITH HER PRIVATE SCHOOL.THANK EVERYONE WHO HAD A HAND IN KEEPING OUR EDUCATION FOR OUR KIDS.

  12. Wallyne August 18, 2016 at 3:59 pm #

    I am so grateful for this program, this is my son first year receiving this and I am overwhelmed with joy because I would not have been able to put him in a private school. Teachers should be happy that some children have this opportunity to participate in such a wonderful program to give them a better chance in success.

  13. Diane Merzoian August 18, 2016 at 6:55 pm #

    I am very grateful for this program because my daughter’s son is no longer lost in a school system where teachers only knew a child only when a problem arise. I appreciate the step up program which gave my daughter the opportunity to choose for her son and for the opportunity to have real teachers who cares about her son’s welfare to teach him. I don’t think public school teachers are great. They are not and many of them has no respect for our kids. Most of them as if they are the same age as our kids who at least needs guidance in the classrooms.

  14. K August 20, 2016 at 9:35 am #

    I got rejected for step up for students because I am not a “poor minority”??

    . I work hard and so does my husband, who’s to say that my family doesn’t deserve the assistance. I pay my taxes, have had a full time job since I graduated college. I pay a ton of money in school loans because I have had the chance to better myself. I want to do that for my children and I’m not elgible for my son to have a good education and a wholesome Christian upbringing.

    Let me clarify, I am thankful that those who qualify for this get a chance for their kids at one of the many private schools in our nation, but just because I have a job I’m not elgible for help. Who’s to say that I don’t need assistance. I guess shame on me for doing ok for myself.

    • Doug Tuthill August 20, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

      K–Thank-you for this comment. At Step Up we believe every family should be able to match their children with the learning options that best meet their needs. And we know many working class families are denied this opportunity for financial reasons. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is at the moment.

      State law limits the amount of scholarship money we can raise each year and also requires that we distribute these limited funds to the most financially needed families first. We hope that as the program’s financial cap increases we’ll be able to provide scholarships for more working class families.

      You can help by communicating your thoughts to your local state House and Senate representatives. They make the state laws that we implement.

      Thanks again for taking the time to write.

  15. Cheryl August 30, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

    Good Afternoon K,

    I first want to say congratulations on being able to do “ok” for yourself with the assistance of your husband. Many of us “poor minorities” wish we were as blessed as you.

    I too was given the chance to better myself, succeeded in graduating from college, and have tons of loans to pay back as well. I too have a full time job and pay my taxes just as you do. Nevertheless, due to unfortunate circumstances, I ended up being a single mom raising four girls on my own.

    Furthermore, my income does not allow for me to qualify for any time of financial assistance even though it would help tremendously…so regardless of popular beliefs, I don’t sit on my behind all day collecting food stamps and whatever else you were institutionalized in believing parents like me do. Many of us work hard, if not even harder than you do.

    I considered myself blessed when I found out about Step Up for Students. Not only did this magnificent scholarship help me enroll my girls in a high quality educational environment, but it also gave me the option of choices, something that many of us “poor minorities” are lacking due to the world that we live in. There are many high quality public schools out there, but unfortunately, I can’t afford to live in the “zone” where most of those particular schools are located. Step Up for Students was the answer to my prayers in making sure my children were given the opportunity to receive the type of education that I believe they deserve!

    Now although we are labeled as “poor minorities,” I don’t consider myself poor in the least, hence, the lack of financial assistance with the exception of Step Up for Students. Yes, the struggle is real, but my faith in God and my determination to see my girls succeed in life keeps me motivated to continuously improve the quality of life for my family. Thank you John Kirtley, all contributors, and the hard working staff who make it possible for Step Up for Students to be a “step up” in the right direction for our loved ones.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Case Dismissed in Lawsuit Against Florida School Choice… Again | Drawnlines Politics - August 16, 2016

    […] In yesterday’s update regarding school choice lawsuits, I noted that a judge recently denied a request to fast-track one of the two anti-school-choice lawsuits (Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida Board of Education). Today, a three-judge panel unanimously dismissed the other lawsuit (McCall v. Scott), in which the state teachers’ union alleged that Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program unconstitutionally supported a “parallel” system of public education and violated the state constitution’s historically anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment, which prohibits publicly funding religious schools. Last year, a trial court judge dismissed the case, holding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the case because the scholarships were privately (not publicly) funded and that they were unable to prove that the scholarship program adversely impacted the district school system. The appellate judges unanimously agreed with the trial court, as Travis Pillow of RedefinED explains: […]

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    […] Court Rejects Challenge to Tax Credit Scholarships: A three-judge panel ruled that the state teachers’ union did not have legal standing to challenge a program providing […]

  3. Florida Court Dismisses Lawsuit Over Scholarships | Florida League of Christian Schools - August 18, 2016

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