A group of parents whose children use the state’s de facto school-voucher program can become defendants in a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the system, a Leon County judge ruled Friday.
With little explanation, Circuit Judge George Reynolds III said after a half-hour hearing that the families could take part in the lawsuit as full parties. The request had been opposed by a coalition including educators, the state’s largest teachers union and other groups asking for the program to be struck down for violating the Legislature’s constitutional responsibility to provide every student with a quality education.
Parents and their lawyers said they should be allowed the full-party status because their children would lose access to what is known as the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program if the court finds it unconstitutional. The lawsuit, filed this summer, named state officials and agencies as defendants.
“We are the actual people who are being affected by the decision of this court,” Rabbi Boaz Levy of Miami, who has five children in the program, said after the hearing. “The state has their purpose and they’re here to govern things, but they’re not directly affected by the results of this case.”
The Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which could raise as much as $357.8 million this year, provides tax credits to companies that donate money to nonprofit entities that pay for children to go to private schools.
Without the scholarship program, critics say, those tax dollars could be used to help fund public education. But supporters say the program provides better opportunities for low- or middle-income children trapped in failing public schools.
The Florida Education Association — the state’s largest teachers union — and other groups challenging the program didn’t object to the parents intervening in the case. But granting them full-party status, as the court did Friday, would give the parents more rights and give them a freer hand to bring up issues that the state might not in defending the lawsuit.
“If they are granted their request to come in as a party, a defendant standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the state, then they could raise completely unrelated claims,” said Lynn Hearn, an attorney for the groups fighting the program.
Karen Walker, a lawyer for the parents, countered that not allowing them to be parties to the suit would make them “second-class citizens.”
“We believe that we have an interest in this case, an interest that is even more direct than the state defendants, because our clients are going to be directly affected potentially by the outcome of this case, and as a result, we should be able to use every tool in our toolbox to defend the constitutionality of the program,” Walker said.
A hearing on the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit is scheduled for Feb. 9.
–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida
State funding should go 80% to the parents of the kids to use in whatever school is best for THEIR kids. the other 20% to the local school district.
Seminole Pride says
No one should be a second class citizen. Education should be open to everyone, and a child should be able to go to any school of their choice.
As an American citizen, every child should be able to obtain a quality education. That does not mean that I, as an American tax-paying citizen, should necessarily have to pay for the specialized private education (especially one coming from a for-profit educational institution or any sort of religious-based institution) of any and every parent’s personal choosing. When people choose to have children, THEY become responsible for providing for their private educational choices in regards to those children. That will remain my belief in any case where a specific parent cannot prove that their child has some special need that cannot be met in a publicly run school–or, alternatively, at home with a curriculum that is at least equal to the education that other children receive in publicly run schools, if that is an option that a parent wishes to pursue. Public schools are required to hold IEP meetings to discuss the needs of children in instances where more specialized services may be required. Once that need is documented and discussed by professionals AND parents and a plan is devised to best meet the need of that individual child, the funds necessary for those provisions should be released by the school system that is responsible for serving that child. And that should be enough.
My opinion is that if you want your kid to go to a private school, then you should pay for it. As a mother with kids in public schools, I am not happy about involuntarily donating to put other people’s children through private school. I don’t qualify for benefits or grants, despite being a single mother. Perhaps I just work too much (sarcasm).
Jeff Jones says
We are all being forced to fund private religious schools because of this tax scam that diverts millions of dollars from public education. If they called it what it really is, a religious tax, people would go insane over it so the legislature and governor did and end around the Florida constitution and earlier court ruliings and called it the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. By any name, it is the very definiiton of tyranny when the government forces you to support religious institutions whose teachings are in direct opposition to your own.
Mary B. says
The following link is from Oklahoma and describes the work of Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships at Trinity School….but it applies to the topic of the article above, and to children in Florida, and to comments above.
Please watch this if you have time. Thanks.
Sherry Epley says
Well said “Anonymous says”! Yes, we should most certainly have high quality “Public” education, and ALL parents should be allowed to enroll and take their kids to any “Public” school they choose.
While, I do not have children, I am fine with paying my fair share of taxes for high quality “Public” education. The future of our country depends on a highly educated populace.
What I strongly protest is being taxed for sending other people’s children to “for profit” PRIVATE/Religious, AKA “Charter” Schools!
Five minutes of research will reveal to anyone that many charter schools fail to provide a higher quality of education, and that under the guise of BS “equal opportunity”. . . there is a gradual return to de facto school “segregation” . The bottom line is that instead of raising the level of “Public Schooling” , white parents are demanding that we all foot the bill so that their kids can be educated “SEPARATELY” from the children of the “OTHERS”. . . AKA “people of color”, “unwashed masses”, “lower classes”, “the poor”.
Sure, send your kids to any school you choose. . . just don’t ask that my taxes pay for it!!!!