Teachers union seeks to appeal ruling on Florida tax credit scholarships

The groups challenging the nation’s largest private school choice program are asking the state Supreme Court to hear their case.

The statewide teachers union on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court court to hear an appeal of a ruling by the First District Court of Appeal, which held last month that the Florida Education Association and other groups behind the suit did not have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the Florida tax credit scholarship program. The Supreme Court is not obligated to entertain the appeal. Its jurisdiction is discretionary.

The litigation at this stage is focused on whether the plaintiffs have legal standing to challenge the program.

A Leon County Circuit Judge and the appellate court have both held the plaintiffs did not have standing because they could not show the scholarship program harms public schools, and that they could not claim “taxpayer standing” to challenge an abuse of the legislature’s spending power.

Bishop Victor Curry, the chairman of the group calling for the plaintiffs to drop the suit, said continuing the case represents an attempt to remove the educational choices of tens of thousands of low-income students.

“We are very disappointed that the union will continue its effort to evict over 92,000 poor, mostly minority children from schools that are working for them,” he said in a statement. “These children were the worst performers at the public schools they left, and now they are thriving. The union’s decision is wrong for the children, and wrong for our public schools.”

In a statement announcing the appeal, reported by the Tampa Bay Times’ Gradebook blog, FEA President Joanne McCall repeated the union’s assertion that the scholarship program resembles a voucher the Florida Supreme Court held unconstitutional in 2006.

“The lower courts have ruled that teachers and our partners in this lawsuit aren’t allowed to challenge the constitutionality of the tax credit vouchers,” she said. “It’s the job of the judiciary to act as a check and balance on the legislative and executive branches of government. A decade ago, the courts ruled that a previous voucher scheme was unconstitutional. They should examine this voucher plan as well.”

Both courts that ruled to dismiss the case, however, relied in part on the key differences between conventional vouchers and tax credit scholarships. Among other things, tax credit scholarships are not funded through the state treasury.

Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.

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