Florida School Funding Under Fire

TALLAHASSEE (CN) - Florida is illegally diverting tax dollars to pay for children to go to private schools, educators, religious leaders and the NAACP claim in court.
     A dozen groups and people sued Gov. Rick Scott et al. in Leon County Court, claiming the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program violates the state constitution.
     "The Scholarship Program is one of multiple recent attempts by the Legislature to establish a state program to pay for the education of Florida children in private schools, diverting for that purpose funds that otherwise would support those children's education in the system of free public schools required by Article IX, § 1 [of the Florida Constitution]," the complaint states.
     "Previously, the Florida courts struck down the Opportunity Scholarship Program ('OSP'), a similar program that provided publicly funded vouchers to pay private-school tuition. Enacted by the Legislature in 1999, the OSP was held unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme: Court in2006 under Article IX, § 1. The Supreme Court also left undisturbed the opinion of the First District Court of Appeal, sitting en bane, which held that the OSP also violated Article I, § 3.
     "Like the OSP, the Scholarship Program at issue here - initially enacted while the OSP was under legal challenge and expanded repeatedly after the OSP was struck down - is a program through which the State provides for the education of Florida children in private schools at public expense. Although the Scholarship Program relies on a different mechanism for channeling taxpayer funds to private schools, the use of 'tax expenditures' rather than direct appropriations to accomplish the same goal of funding private education cannot save the Scholarship Program from the constitutional flaws that doomed the OSP. As was the case with the OSP, the Scholarship Program violates the constitutional mandate that a system of free public schools is to be the means by which the Legislature provides for the education of Florida children, as well as the constitutional prohibition against using public funds in aid of sectarian institutions."
     Plaintiffs include parents, a state senator, a public school principal, the Florida School Boards Association, the Florida Education Association, a rabbi, a Baptist minister, a Presbyterian minister, the Florida PTA, the League of Women Voters and the NAACP.
     They want the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program declared unconstitutional, and its enforcement enjoined.
     Their lead attorney is Ronald Meyer, with Meyer, Brooks, Demma and Blohm, of Tallahassee.