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Judge Dismisses School Choice Voucher Lawsuit

Denisha Merriweather appears in this promotional video asking the FEA to, "drop the suit"--a reference to its lawsuit against Florida's corporate tax scholarship program.
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A legal challenge to the state’s key school choice program has been tossed by a Leon County judge. The ruling centered on whether the groups bringing the challenge could do it, and not on whether the corporate tax scholarship program is legal.

Leon Circuit Judge George Reynolds says the Florida Education Association doesn’t have standing to bring its case against the state’s corporate tax scholarship program. Part of Reynolds' decision to dismiss the case centers on previous ruling on tax credits—and outlines that those credits are not public funds nor a legislative appropriation.

“You may not know this but there are 32 tax credit programs in the state of Florida, most of them have nothing to do with education," said Nate Adams, an attorney for Holland and Knight who represents the plaintiffs.

 “One of the arguments the plaintiffs have been making in this case is that somehow this particular one of 32 programs has a negative impact on educational funding. And in truth, education funding has gone up many of the years during the life of this program, including the past few.”

The lawsuit was brought by the state teachers union- the Florida Education Association and other groups claim steers what would have been public money to private schools.  Judge Reynolds did not speculate on whether the program is constitutional, but he noted the union, and other groups that signed on to sue the state—did not prove how they are harmed by its existence.

“We have children in the public schools, we represent those that work in the public schools, and the children we teach. If we don’t have standing I don’t know who could have standing if you’ve been harmed like the Florida public schools have," said FEA Vice President Joanee McCall. "More than 2.7 million students go to school in this state. About 70,ooo are being served by some of these other types of voucher programs.”

McCall says she believes if the lawsuit is allowed to go forward, the union would win, similar to how it defeated the state’s original school voucher law in 2006. The FEA has 30 days to appeal—but it could run into the same issue: proving standing. Similar lawsuits in three other states have been tossed.