Dear Fellow Members,
This morning, the FEA filed a lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott, the members of the Florida Cabinet, the state education commissioner, and the state departments of Revenue and Education. This lawsuit states that the tax credit voucher program, implemented by the state, is unconstitutional.
The Florida Constitution requires a system of free public schools to be in place, and declares that it is "a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education." The manner in which this mandate must be carried out is "by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools,” as said in Article IX, Section 1(a). The tax credit voucher program is hindering this process. It is allowing the state to fund students’ tuition in private schools using our tax dollars, which is against Florida law.
We are not alone. I am listed as a plaintiff, as are state Sen. Geraldine Thompson; Bob Jones, a public school principal and immediate past president of the Florida Association of School Administrators; Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, Reverend Harry Parrott, Jr., and Reverend Harold Brockus, who are all affiliated with Americans United for Separation of Church and State. In addition to those individuals, other public school organizations involved are the Florida School Boards Association, the Florida PTA, the Florida Association of School Administrators, the Florida NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Florida.
This is not the first time that the Legislature has tried to establish a state program to pay for private school education. In 2006, Florida courts deemed the Opportunity Scholarship Program unconstitutional in the Bush v. Holmes case. The Opportunity Scholarship Program was similar to tax credit vouchers in that it used public funds for private school tuition. The court used two rationales to verify this, and they are both applicable today. Despite the courts’ ruling, the Legislature has continued to expand voucher programs.
This money should be used to help fix our lowest performing schools, instead of sending our students to schools that have no regulations, no standards, and no accountability. It is not fair that our tax dollars are helping only a small student population attend private schools, when the rest of our students are being forgotten. We have a glowing public school system that can be made even better. Lawmakers should focus more on bringing up our lowest performing public schools instead of stepping over them and leaving them behind.
The Legislature thinks that they can continue to break the law so that they can get what they want – we will not let them. The FEA will continue to fight for our members and our students.
Joanne M. McCall, Vice President
Florida Education Association
NEA, AFT, AFL-CIO
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