Florida’s highest court delivered a key victory for school choice last week, when the Supreme Court of Florida (SCOFLA) allowed the popular Florida Tax-Credit Scholarship program to continue. This was the third time that the state’s largest teachers’ union, the Florida Education Association (FEA), saw fit to sue over a program that helps mostly poor and minority students without spending taxpayer money.
Joining the FEA in filing the suit were the Florida NAACP and the Florida League of Women Voters, both of which claimed to represent the very constituencies that benefit most from the program. (A majority of the program’s beneficiaries are either single-parent or minority households.) These plaintiffs stayed on even after the case lost in court, then again on appeal. But now SCOFLA has ended it for good.
As I argued previously, this suit was particularly outrageous, even for the reliably partisan organizations that brought it:
The complaint against the program is the ubiquitous claim that money is “drained” from public schools. It’s an especially preposterous argument in this case, since the tax-credit scholarships are actually funded by corporate contributions. The state government does not pay for scholarships to certain schools through the program, yet opponents still call them “vouchers” to create the sense that they are costing Floridians money. The FEA also claims that since the tax-credit scholarships can go toward religious schools, the program violates the Florida Constitution’s separation of church and state.
By a 4–1 vote, the court ruled that none of those claims give the plaintiffs standing to sue.
While the case was being considered, a diverse coalition expressed support for the program and demanded that the plaintiffs drop the suit. Martin Luther King III, son of the civil-rights icon, is a school-choice advocate who spoke last year at a rally in Tallahassee opposing the suit.
Being a Democrat, he takes issue with how the NAACP and unions have turned school choice into a matter of tribal allegiance. “It is partisan, but it shouldn’t be,” he said. “It should be based on whether the kids are performing or not.”
With school choice making national headlines following Donald Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos to lead the federal Education Department, many experts and advocates have repeated the point that education is still primarily a state and local matter. It’s good that Florida’s courts are not going to impede that process by taking the side of the FEA and its nationally prominent backers.