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Constitutionality of Private School Vouchers Questioned in Florida Lawsuit
Summary: A lawsuit has been filed in Florida alleging that a state funded voucher program, which provides scholarships to private schools, is unconstitutional.
Florida’s school voucher program has come under fire: on Thursday, the Florida teachers union, school boards association, and PTA filed a complaint that the program is unconstitutional, according to Bradenton.com.
The voucher program provides private-school scholarships to children of low-income families. The plaintiffs of the suit allege that the vouchers violate Florida’s Constitutional duty to provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools.” In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court analyzed the same clause in the state’s Constitution and before declaring a different voucher program was invalid.
Such programs have been under scrutiny by the Florida Education Association for some time. The Florida Supreme Court overturned a voucher program in 1999, claiming that the program violated the Constitutional requirement of maintaining a free, uniform public school system. The violation occurred when state funds were used in private schools.
In 2002, a tax credit scholarship program was introduced. Corporations provided the funding for this program. Those businesses that contributed to the scholarships would receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit in return.
The program would provide scholarships of up to $5,272 to nearly 70,000 students. Pro-voucher citizens explain that the scholarships provide an option for children who may not thrive in public schools. Governor Rick Scott, who was named as a defendant in the case, said “It is unconscionable that trial lawyers and unions have ganged up to use these children as a political ploy…quite simply, this careless action could have terrible consequences on the lives of Florida’s poorest children, who with the help of this program have a chance to escape poverty.”
Gary Chartrand, State Board of Education Chairman, concluded that the program assisted children with limited financial resources. Disappointed with the filing of the suit, he said, “This is surprising and disheartening, and I call on them to rethink their position and withdraw the lawsuit.” Patricia Levesque, of former Governor Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, was also frustrated with the case. “If these organizations sat down and talked to the families benefiting from this hugely popular program, I think they’d be humbled and embarrassed by their actions.”
Ron Meyer, attorney for the Florida Education Association and the Florida School Boards Association, stated that the program “diverts state revenue for the purpose of creating an unregulated hodgepodge of private schools.” Meyer was confident that the program would be overturned on constitutional grounds. “It is nonetheless state money that is being used,” he argued.
The opposition claims that the money should be redirected to the public school system because it is more regulated. Plus, there’s more accountability in the public school system, they theorize. Another concern is that many of the private schools that accept the scholarships are faith-based schools.
The teachers’ union has had a busy summer. In July, it filed a suit challenging a 2014 law that would expand the tax credit scholarship program. It would create similar state funded scholarships for special needs children. It is the manner in which the bill became law, not the underlying program, that is the basis of that suit.
Photo credit: stateimpact.npr.orgPrivate School Vouchers Trigger Filing of Florida Lawsuit by Noelle Price