A challenge to this year’s expansion of the state’s de facto school-voucher program was thrown out of court for a second time Tuesday, likely ending one of two legal threats to the system.
Leon County Chief Circuit Judge Charles Francis dismissed the lawsuit “with prejudice,” which essentially bars the suit from being filed again. The challenge, backed by the Florida Education Association, was seeking to reverse a 2014 law that packed together an expansion of eligibility for the voucher program with several other education measures.
Francis had ruled in September that the plaintiff in the lawsuit, East Lee County High School teacher Tom Faasse, didn’t have the legal right to file suit against the law unless Faasse could prove that the law specifically hurt him. But Francis gave Faasse a chance to file a new version of the lawsuit, the one that was rejected Tuesday.
“In order to sustain standing, the plaintiffs are required to allege sufficient facts to support a finding of special injury,” Francis wrote. “As currently pled, the amendment complaint for declaratory judgment also fails to allege a legally sufficient basis to sustain a finding of special injury and the court is of the opinion that further amendments to the complaint will not result in a legally sufficient complaint.”
Francis rebuffed claims by Faasse and two parents who joined the new lawsuit that the expansion of the Tax Credit Scholarship Program hurt them because it could lead to reduced funding for their schools. The program provides tax credits to companies that donate money to nonprofit entities that pay for children to go to private schools.
“We are pleased that Chief Judge Francis granted our office’s motion and upheld the law,” Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a brief statement issued by her office.
The Florida Education Association did not immediately comment on Francis’ action.
In the original lawsuit, Faasse contended that because the legislation at the center of the suit dealt with spending decisions, it could be challenged under the Florida Constitution’s requirement that each bill deals with a single subject.
But Francis sided with the state, which argued that, to fall under the constitutional provision, a lawsuit had to challenge a bill based on a constitutional limit on how the Legislature spends money. Francis said Faasse couldn’t sue just because the law he was challenging had an impact on the budget.
Francis’ rulings don’t affect a separate, broader challenge to the voucher program. That lawsuit, filed in August, draws on a 2006 ruling from the Florida Supreme Court that held the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program unconstitutional. That program was a purer version of a voucher system, using public money directly to fund private education for some students.