The statewide voucher program which sends nearly 70,000 low-income students to private schools each year received some good news Monday afternoon when a Leon County circuit judge tossed out a lawsuit alleging the program is unconstitutional.
In the ruling, Judge George Reynolds ruled the plaintiffs -- who include the Florida Education Association, the Florida School Boards Association and the Florida PTA -- did not have standing to bring the lawsuit to court.
The case was filed last August based on the groups belief that the program violated Florida's Constitution by redirecting taxpayer money to religious institutions. Florida's Constitution prohibits state aid for religious institutions; a majority of students participating in the program choose to attend religious private schools.
The groups also contended the voucher program was harmful to public schools and funneled much-needed funding away from public schools which need it most.
Reynolds' ruling refuted such claims.
Whether any diminution of public school resources resulting from the tax credit program will actually take place is speculative, as is any claim that any such diminution would result in reduced per-pupil spending or in any adverse impact on the quality of education, read Reynolds' ruling.
The FEA said it was considering whether or not to appeal the ruling in a statement, but an appeal seems likely -- FEA Vice President Joanne McCall has said she would take the case all the way to the Florida Supreme Court if necessary.
The Florida Legislature created the voucher program in 2001 under then-Gov. Jeb Bush. Many of the states top lawmakers -- both past and present -- said Monday's decision was good news for Florida students.
"Big win for kids over teachers' union who failed in lawsuit to stop 1st-of-its-kind school choice program we spearheaded in Florida," wrote former Gov. Jeb Bush
Education is about whats best for students, not big unions, tweeted House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island. This is a great win for Florida families!
A nice score for the good guys! tweeted former House Speaker Will Weatherford, Monday.
Parents of children participating in the program also chimed in with their support for Mondays ruling.
Im so relieved, said Andrea Wiggins of Lakeland. Three of her five children attend private schools as a result of the program. The other two attend private schools with assistance from a McKay Scholarship and a Personal Learning Scholarship Account. "My children attend a school where they are safe and stable. That's the foundation for them to be successful. Im happy they will get the chance to stay.
Even members of the states largest teachers union said they were relieved by Judge Reynolds decision.
My union had no good reason to sue, said Marlene Desdunes, a public school teacher and mother of two students who attend private schools thanks to the tax credit program. Students and parents deserve educational options and all teachers know that students learn in different ways.
This is a breaking story. Check back for more updates.