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No matter how many courts have rejected their pleadings, enemies of school choice appear committed to a 100-year-long judicial war in quest of some ultimate edict that will keep American students forever captive in government schools.
Consider that blunderbuss of a lawsuit in Florida that began in 2009 with an effort by activists led by the Southern Legal Counsel to persuade the state judiciary to declare the Sunshine State’s school system in violation of a state constitutional requirement “to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” (Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education.)
In 2014, as if to throw every possible allegation against the wall with the hope something would stick, the “adequacy” litigants added the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and the McKay Scholarship for Pupils with Disabilities to their challenge, along with charter schools, teacher evaluation and even testing. Specifically, they sought to demonize the parental-choice programs as drains on The One True System: failing, traditional public education.
On May 24, Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds rejected all charges in a 29-page opinion supplemented by 200 pages of documentation. The judge found private-choice innovations — far from being a fiscal diversion — have been an integral part of Florida’s educational progress in recent years.
Undeterred, lawyers for the litigants immediately vowed to appeal. Kathleen Oropeza of Fund Education Now termed courtroom advocacy of governmental supremacy “a marathon, not a sprint” — in other words, a century-long war.
Does it seem odd the very litigants who deem Florida’s public schools “inadequate” would kill scholarship programs currently enabling more than 100,000 poor and/or disabled students to find workable alternatives — and thereby force them back into substandard institutions? Sure, their logic may be screwy, but bear in mind that to socialists and statists, “adequacy” means sucking all money possible out of productive society and funneling it directly into a monolithic, all-controlling system.
Ultimately, the blunderbuss may be less significant than a more precisely targeted second lawsuit the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union, filed in 2014 against the state’s tax-credit scholarship.
Enacted in 2001, the Florida Tax Credit awards corporations a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donations going toward scholarships enabling needy children to transfer to private schools.
The amount of good done the first 15 years has been impressive: The number of aided children has steadily risen to 78,120 students who were enrolled in 1,594 private schools during the 2015-2016 school year. Scholarships are limited to $5,886 per student or the cost of tuition, whichever is less. A little more than two-thirds of recipients are black or Hispanic. The average annual income of aided families is a modest $25,557. Several studies have documented that a majority of scholarship students had been struggling in their assigned public schools but are now doing better in their chosen private schools.
In McCall v. Scott, the Florida Education Association, in alliance with public-education interest groups and the state NAACP), complains this charitable money from the private sector rightfully should be taxed instead and funneled exclusively to the government schools.
A great many courts have shot down the preposterous argument private money never reaching the public treasury nevertheless belongs to Big Education interests such as the teachers unions masquerading as champions of the taxpayer. The list stretches from several states’ judiciaries to the U.S. Supreme Court, which held in 2011 in Winn v. Arizona tax-credit scholarships are funded entirely and legitimately by voluntary private donations, not state appropriations.
A local judge in Tallahassee rejected FEA’s case in 2015, and an appellate court now has it under review. If the union loses yet again, FEA president Joanne McCall, the lead plaintiff, is on record saying the fight will continue to the Florida Supreme Court.
If a judicial deathblow ever should befall this program, it is hard to see anything good happening to students — or to the public-school system for that matter. Nearly 80,000 pupils will stream back into public schools that already are overcrowded. The sudden added expense likely will result in a reduction of per-pupil spending. Worst of all, many underprivileged youngsters will be kicked out of schools that were working for them and be shipped back to schools that were not.
That last outcome has prompted many longtime supporters of the NAACP to plead with the Florida chapter to terminate its partnership with the education establishment and return to its historic mission of liberating black children from oppressive systems that call all the shots as to where and how students will be educated.