No fast-track for Fla. education lawsuit; school choice issues could resurface

We’re a bit slow to log this in, but Florida’s First District Court of Appeal last week denied an attempt to fast-track a wide-ranging education lawsuit to the state Supreme Court.

It’s worth noting what was at stake.

The groups behind the adequacy lawsuit argue elected officials have violated the Florida Constitution by under-funding public schools and saddling them with unworkable accountability rules. They also argue a range of school choice programs — including charter schools, tax credit scholarships for low-income students, and McKay Scholarships for special needs students — contribute to the problem.

In December, Judge George Reynolds ruled the plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the tax credit scholarship program. Then, in May, he dismissed the rest of the lawsuit after finding Florida’s public education system is not in such bad shape that it warrants judicial intervention.

When the plaintiffs appealed the case this summer, they indicated they want the appellate court to weigh not only Reynolds’ May decision dismissing the case, but his December ruling that put the kibosh on their arguments challenging the tax credit scholarship program.

In other words, the plaintiffs want to keep their legal arguments against the nation’s private school choice program in play.

The Institute for Justice has intervened in the case on behalf of scholarship parents. In a legal brief arguing against fast-tracking the case, IJ’s lawyers said appellate judges might want to look at the wide range of issues it covers, and “prune the case down prior to any subsequent Supreme Court review.”

Meanwhile, the same court of appeal has already heard arguments in a separate lawsuit, brought by the statewide teachers union and other groups, that directly challenges the constitutionality of tax credit scholarships. Reynolds dismissed that case in May of 2015, holding that the union did not have legal standing to challenge the program. The appellate court is expected to rule in that case in the coming months.

To recap: There are still two lawsuits taking aim at the nation’s largest private school choice program. One is awaiting a ruling from Florida’s First District Court of Appeal. The other includes a wide range of education reform-related issues, and will soon be heard by the same court. We’ll keep our readers abreast of developments in both cases.

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