Voucher opponents ask to reinstate lawsuit

BY BRANDON LARRABEE
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

TALLAHASSEE – Lawyers for opponents of the state’s de facto school-voucher program asked an appeals court Tuesday to reinstate a lawsuit against the system, saying they had the right to bring the case under the Florida Constitution.

But a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal, which is reviewing a lower court decision that threw out the nearly two-year-old lawsuit, seemed skeptical of arguments that challengers like the state’s largest teachers’ union had the “standing” needed for the lawsuit to go forward.

Last year, Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds dismissed the case, saying the tax credits were different than a decision by the Legislature to direct public money into vouchers.

Likely to agree
During Tuesday’s hearing, some of the appeals-court judges seemed inclined to go along with that reasoning.

Supporters of the scholarships point to the fact that the program helps low-income Floridians afford private educations that might be best for individual children, though lawmakers approved legislation in 2014 that would allow for a family of four earning up to $63,050 to be eligible for at least a partial scholarship in the 2016-17 school year

‘Wrong side’
Supporters of the system continued to push for the organizations challenging the program to abandon the suit. A group of African-American ministers said they had gathered more than 5,000 signatures on a petition asking the NAACP to drop out of the effort.

The Rev. R.B. Holmes, pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee – which operates Bethel Christian Academy – emphasized that he was a member of the NAACP.

“But my great organization is on the wrong side of history on this,” Holmes said.

Can’t win on merits
Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall said the increasing pressure on the union and its allies was a sign of concern from scholarship supporters about what would happen if opponents got their day in court.

“I believe that’s what all the hoopla is about trying to have me drop the suit, #DropTheSuit and all of the ads that are going out there – it’s because they don’t believe that they can win on the merits of this case,” she said.

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