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Fla. Teachers' Union Backs Second Lawsuit Against State School Choice Program

Cross posted from the Charters & Choice blog.

A statewide Florida teachers' union is backing a second lawsuit in two months against the state's education tax-credit scholarship program, this one arguing that the program is unconstitutional because it funnels money into religious institutions.

"Florida's voucher programs are a risky experiment that gambles taxpayers' money and children's lives," Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall said in a statement sent out in conjunction with a press conference in Tallahassee. "Florida's voucher schools are largely unregulated, don't have to follow the state's academic standards, don't have to hire qualified teachers and don't have to prove to the state that they are using public money wisely."

Tax-credit scholarship programs allow businesses or individuals to claim tax credits for donations made to state-approved organizations, which then give money to eligible students to use toward tuition at private schools—many of which are religious private schools. But tax-credit scholarships differ from traditional school voucher programs where the state directly provides money to families to use toward private school tuition.

Florida's tax-credit scholarship program was created during the governorship of Jeb Bush in 2001. His education reform organization, The Foundation for Excellence in Education, quickly countered the FEA's press release with its own:

"For many of Florida's poorest families, zoned for some of the lowest-performing schools in the state, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program offers hope for parents and a life-changing education for children," the former governor said in the statement. "This lawsuit is just the latest attack on parental choice by an entrenched education establishment more concerned about protecting the status quo than providing families the opportunities afforded by a great education."

Several other individuals and organizations are joining the Florida Education Association (which is affiliated with both of the major national teachers' unions: The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers) in the lawsuit, including 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. The suit names Gov. Rick Scott, the members of his cabinet, the state education commissioner, and the state departments of Revenue and Education as defendants.

The FEA filed a separate lawsuit in July also aimed at the tax-credit scholarships, but that one is challenging whether the program's recent expansion was legal.

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