The Florida Supreme Court said last week it wouldn’t hear a case challenging the constitutionality of the state’s largest school voucher program, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
The voucher program is technically a tax-credit scholarship program, providing tax credits for parents who decide to send their children not to the public schools for which those taxes were originally intended but to the private schools they decide to attend.
Florida’s Tax-Credit Scholarship Program serves low-income students—more than 97,000 this year alone—and was contested by the teachers’ union. “We still believe that the tax credit vouchers are unconstitutional,” the paper quoted Joanne McCall, the union president, as saying in a statement. With the appeal denied, “we haven’t had the opportunity to argue our case in court. We’re baffled that the courts would deny taxpayers the right to question state expenditures. This decision has ramifications beyond this challenge to a voucher program.”
But several people expressed joy that the voucher program would proceed unchallenged. “Thank God for Florida tax credit scholarships,” Lorene Walker of Orlando told the Sentinel. “If it was not for them, I don’t know where my granddaughter would be. Maybe left behind a couple of times.” She added that her family would not have been able to afford the tuition at Lion of Judah Academy in Orlando, where her granddaughter, who was struggling in the public school, goes to school.
The tax-credit program, funded entirely by corporate donations in exchange for the tax credits, began under former Gov Jeb Bush and continues now, with great expansions, under Gov Rick Scott. “It is my hope that opponents of Florida’s efforts to help our most vulnerable students will stop impeding successful reforms and join us in ensuring all students have access to excellent educational options,” Mr Bush said in a statement.
About 70 percent of the students whose families receive the tax credits attend religious schools, and the schools don’t have to meet the same testing or accountability standards imposed on public schools in the state.
The union had assumed that, as taxpayers, they had standing to challenge the lawsuit, but the appellate court and now the Florida Supreme Court disagreed with that opinion. The remedy for the union’s “quarrel with the Legislature’s policy judgment regarding school choice and funding of Florida’s public schools” is, and should be, “at the polls,” the appeals court wrote in its opinion.
Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of education, is a strong proponent of and advocate for voucher programs and other ways of implementing “school choice.” Opponents say vouchers doom public schools by removing students and reducing the level of funding they receive from the state.