Another Misguided Legal Attack on School Choice
Here at the Show-Me Institute, we talk a lot about barriers to education reform and school choice. Last legislative session, the Missouri Senate was unable to pass a tax credit scholarship program before the session ended. In Florida, challenges to their school choice programs are taking place in the courts.
A lawsuit before the Florida Supreme Court potentially could oust over 92,000 students from private schools across the state. Despite lower court rulings that the plaintiffs had no legal standing, the Florida Education Association (FEA) continues to challenge Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) program run by Step Up for Students.
FEA, Florida’s largest teachers union, and other groups filed the lawsuit claiming the program takes funding away from public schools and violates the state constitution by giving taxpayer money to religious schools. The district court ruled that the plaintiffs could not prove they had been harmed by the program because the FTC program concerns the state’s taxing power and not its appropriations.
Step Up for Students, a state-approved non-profit organization, handed out nearly 100,000 scholarships for the 2016–2017 schoolyear. Along with administering the Gardiner Scholarship, which helped Malachi Kuhn and 5,843 other special needs students, Step Up for Students provided scholarships for a record 92,011 low-income students this year to attend private schools.
While the Gardiner Scholarship is funded from Florida’s state appropriations, the FTC program is completely funded by private donations. This tax credit, established in 2002, allows corporations to receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for their donations to Step Up for Students.
While remaining optimistic, parents are getting ready to defend the program and the educational opportunity it creates for their children. For low-income families, the FTC program provides an alternative to the public schools that are in many cases failing to offer quality education.
How does Florida’s FTC program relate to school choice in Missouri? If the Florida Supreme Court upholds the FTC program as constitutional, that ruling could bolster the case for any similar program in Missouri against possible constitutional challenges, opening the door of opportunity for tens of thousands of Missouri students. This summer, Marty Lueken and Mike McShane released an essay estimating that a tax credit-funded scholarship program in Missouri could provide over 12,000 scholarships and, contrary to the claims of groups like FEA, save the state and local districts around $8.3 million per year.
The FTC program has made a tremendous impact on low-income and minority communities in Florida. Hopefully the program will be upheld in court and school choice programs will continue to spread throughout the nation.