Thousands of civil rights activists and educators will flock to Tallahassee Tuesday to throw their support behind Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program, a voucher scholarship program which allows thousands of low-income students to attend private schools in the Sunshine State.
Headlining the rally will be Martin Luther King, III, the son of the famous civil rights activist who championed equality between blacks and whites in the 1960s.
Save Our Scholarships Coalition and other education groups will lead around 10,000 civil rights activists, educators, parents and students for the “Rally in Tally,” marching through the streets of Florida’s capital city to tell the state’s largest teachers’ union to save the tax credit scholarship program.
Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship currently serves 78,000 students, most of whom are low-income minorities. Students participating in the 14-year old program are given “vouchers” to attend private schools of their choice as opposed to attending a regular public school.
Companies who give money to the scholarship program are given tax credits equal to their donations.
That program is under attack, however, from several groups across the state. Led by the Florida Education Association, the groups have filed a lawsuit against the voucher program, alleging it is unconstitutional because it takes money away from the state’s public education system.
Tallahassee judge George Reynolds dismissed the suit in May, saying the program did not financially harm Florida’s education system. Reynolds also rejected the suit because he said the FEA did not have legal standing to pursue the case.
But the FEA says it won’t give up on its challenge, planning to take the lawsuit all the way to the Florida Supreme Court if necessary. The case is currently pending appeal.
“There’s only a certain amount of money in the pie,” FEA President Joanne McCall said. “When you start diverting funds meant for public schools to private entities — and a lot of them are for-profit — you can’t provide what you need to provide for the public school system.”
But supporters of the program say the teachers’ union isn’t fully cognizant of the impact taking away the program would have.
“It’s important for the members of the union to know exactly what the FEA is doing when it’s threatening the existence of this good program,” said Save Our Scholarships spokesperson Ryan Banfill. “These are kids from low income families.”
Banfill told Sunshine State News buses would be taking supporters of the program to Tallahassee for the rally. Some buses would be leaving as early as 1:30 a.m. to arrive to the rally on time.
“[These groups] are a whole, big and wide coalition who support this important scholarship program for this state and who are galvanized to demand the FEA drop this lawsuit against this spectacular program,” he told SSN.
The FEA held its own rally demanding education reform at the Capitol last week. Around 2,000 teachers made the trek to Tallahassee to protest high-stakes testing and the student voucher program among several other education issues.
Civil rights activists from around the state will show their support at the rally. In addition to King, Rev. Dr. R.B. Holmes Jr. of Tallahassee’s Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and Bishop Victor T. Curry of Miami’s New Birth Baptist Church will also be participating.
The march will begin at 10 a.m. Ryan Banfill told SSN program supporters would march up Pensacola Street and eventually fill the area all around the Florida Supreme Court on Duval Street in Tallahassee.
The rally will be held from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.