Florida school funding lawsuit attacks school choice programs

A lawsuit seeking more funding for public education has widened to challenge programs that help Florida parents send their children to private schools.

The original case aimed to put Florida’s education system on trial, arguing among other things that lawmakers had not adequately funded public schools, in violation of the state constitution. 

An amended legal complaint filed late Friday afternoon adds new claims to the case, challenging the tax credit scholarship program for low-income students and the McKay Scholarship program for special-needs students.

First filed nearly five years ago, the case centers on a requirement in the state constitution that the Legislature must provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.”

The revised lawsuit contends:

Many of the State’s reforms and programs, including the accountability system, changes to the graduation requirements, retention and promotion requirements, teacher evaluations, charter schools, and the FTCSP and the McKay Programs, have wasted millions of dollars without producing the desired effect of a high quality public school system, and are thus not efficient.

It also argues the state “is not providing a high quality pre-kindergarten learning opportunity,” in violation of a related constitutional provision that led to the creation of Florida’s Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the state Opportunity Scholarship voucher program, which used state education funding to help pay private school tuition for children in poorly rated public schools, was unconstitutional.

The ruling in Bush v. Holmes hinged in part on the fact that the program used funds already set aside for education. Justices gave themselves room to rule differently on other private school choice programs, including those that cater to students with disabilities.

Neither McKay nor tax credit scholarships have faced a similar constitutional challenge until now. The revised lawsuit argues that by creating and expanding the two scholarship programs, “the Florida Legislature intended to divert public money from the education finance program and use this money instead to fund private school vouchers.”

A 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that thwarted a challenge of tax credit scholarships in Arizona drew a distinction between programs funded directly by the state and programs administered by private groups.

The Florida lawsuit, however, contends that allowing companies to give donations to scholarship organizations (including Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog) in exchange for a corresponding reduction in their state taxes is “functionally the same as collecting the revenue and then making an expenditure of public funds.”

The plaintiffs in the case include public-school parents, students and groups that have been persistent critics of state education policy. They are represented by Southern Legal Counsel.

The case is set to be heard by a Leon County judge in the summer of 2015.

Coverage elsewhere:

Orlando Sentinel School Zone.


  1. Parent and Teacher

    To anyone with half a brain it is obvious that there is a coordinated effort to create dual school systems which is a direct violation of the FL constitution requiring a UNIFORM system of free public schools. We now have private schools, the darling of the right wing republicans, who offer free education in the form of vouchers. Those private schools do not have to give standardized exams that have such draconian measures related to them. Those same legislators who argue in favor of the greatness of Common Core do not require voucher schools to teach Common Core or give Common Core related tests. You folks at SUFS who have been programed to look at someone with a straight face and argue otherwise are becoming a laughing stock. The days of the voucher program are numbered!

  2. I don’t understand where the SUFS staff and bloggers constantly bicker about who is doing what to help struggling schools In the recent past SUFS staffers have said they would work with the the public schools to help our struggling students no siphon off more dollars thru the TCSP. The Tax Credit Scholarship program was expanded with a few oversights built in. We are we still fighting among us.

  3. Patrick R. Gibbons

    Hi Parent and Teacher,

    It seems that the word “uniform” addresses the issue of funding and does not mean the schools have to be the exact same.

    Nothing would be “uniform” today by such an understanding of the word in the constitution. We’d have to get rid of not just charters but magnets, career academies, alternative schools, virtual schools. All children would have to be educated in the same manner in a lock-step fashion as if they were widgets in a factory. That’s just horrifying to imagine.

    Thanks for writing!