Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Florida Republicans blast expected lawsuit against school voucher program

Posted By on Wed, Aug 27, 2014 at 5:26 PM

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The state's largest teacher's union released a statement on Wednesday saying that they are planning another lawsuit related to the state's school voucher program. The Florida Education Association will hold a press conference tomorrow in Tallahassee to discuss the case. But state Republicans aren't waiting until Thursday to express their indignation at the idea of such a lawsuit.

The FEA is already suing over a bill passed this year that expands the school voucher program. That suit says lawmakers “logrolled” too many education issues into a single bill that passed in the final hours of the legislative session.

Approximately 60,000 students in Florida are currently receiving tax credit scholarships, which allows corporations to fund private-school scholarships for low-income children. The businesses receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits in exchange for their contributions.

"It is appalling that the Florida School Boards Association, unions and others would use their power to try to block low-income parents from giving their children the education of their choice," said House Speaker Will Weatherford. "This is a tactic completely motivated by the worst kind of bureaucratic politics that places the fears of an organization over the needs of children. We will vigorously defend this program because we know that it helps our most vulnerable children rise out of difficult circumstances and achieve true success.”

Senate President Don Gaetz calls the announcement of the lawsuit "ironically ill-timed and hypocritical."

Ill-timed, he says, because the state Legislature in this year's regular session finally enacted academic and financial accountability measures. And hypocritical because he says that when such scholarships (known officially as Florida Tax Credit Scholarships) were available only to the very poor, who disproportionately are minority families, and other students with unique needs, the School Boards Association didn’t challenge their constitutionality.

"It is only now, when the eligibility for scholarships has been expanded and when less-impoverished students can participate that the School Board Association has discovered its constitutional indignation," Gaetz harrumphed.

As the Orlando Sentinel reports, the FEA in 2006 successfully challenged the legality of Florida's first school voucher program put into place by former Governor Jeb Bush that  provided private-school tuition vouchers to students at some failing public schools.

But the Florida Supreme Court ruled that program violated the state's Constitution by taking money from public education and by failing to provide the "uniform" system of schools the document requires.The tax-credit program, however, is funded differently, since corporations provide the funds — and, in return, get a credit on on their state tax bills. 

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