One of the most emotionally potent arguments against educational choice – that it cripples public schools financially – is slowly unraveling in a Florida court of law. Teacher union attorneys, who seek to abolish tax credit scholarships for 78,000 low-income children, are stumbling to make the case.
This is no small matter. The claim that scholarships and vouchers and charter schools financially undercut public education has been repeated so often for so long that it tends to get treated as though it were fact. The money is commonly described as being “diverted” or “siphoned” from public schools, pitting choice schools against neighborhood schools and creating understandable anguish for parents who want only for their children to have the best education possible.
The Florida case, McCall v. Scott, is shining an unforgiving light on that assertion. The backdrop is the issue of standing – the typically arcane calculation of whether someone is connected to and harmed by a legal matter the court can resolve. Because the union is challenging a scholarship that involves no direct appropriation of tax dollars, the attorneys are being asked to prove their clients suffer “special injury.”
They are quite conspicuously failing.
In the original complaint, filed Aug. 28, 2014, the Florida Education Association (FEA) attorneys said their clients “have been and will continue to be injured by the scholarship program’s diversion of resources from the public schools.” They bolstered the case with two arguments: 1) The tax-credited contributions that are made to private nonprofits to pay for scholarships reduce state taxes that would otherwise fund public schools; and 2) School districts lose funding for each student who leaves a public school to attend a scholarship school.
During the arguments in trial court, Leon Circuit Judge George Reynolds was openly skeptical. “You could do away with this program tomorrow morning,” he said at one point, “and the budget for the school system might change not one iota.” He then dismissed the case on May 18, 2015, ruling: “Whether any diminution of public school resources resulting from the Tax Credit Program will actually take place is speculative, as is any claim that any such diminution would result in reduced per-pupil spending or in any adverse impact on the quality of education.” Continue Reading →