State, parents defend Florida school choice legislation in court

A judge should leave Florida’s newest school choice legislation intact, lawyers for the parents of special needs children argue in court papers filed Friday.

The parents are intervening to defend the state’s new Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts program from a lawsuit challenging the legislation that created it.

The suit, backed by the statewide teachers union, argues lawmakers violated the “single-subject” rule in the state constitution by inserting multiple education issues into one bill on the last day of this spring’s legislative session.

The parents’ legal filing argues that passing last-minute legislation with multiple provisions tacked on is a common practice. Their lawyers estimate that since 1997 the state has passed some 27 pieces of legislation that – like SB 850 – were described simply as “an act relating to education” and in many cases included a wide range of education-related provisions.

“The single subject rule does not provide a vehicle to second-guess the Legislature’s broad power to provide opportunities to Florida students,” their brief argues. “A judicial action nullifying this law would not only arrest the Legislature’s ability to address the complexities and challenges of education in the 21st Century, but also would deprive thousands of Florida schoolchildren of the opportunities provided by this law.”

The brief was part of a barrage of recent filings in the case, which will be argued Wednesday in a Tallahassee circuit court.

The state has questioned whether the lead plaintiff, a Lee County public school teacher, can even bring the case, arguing he can’t show how the new law causes him any harm. The plaintiffs responded to those arguments Friday, and the state also filed a separate defense of the school choice legislation, which notes among other things that “the Legislature routinely enacts legislation with numerous sections.”

The Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts for special needs students are administered by organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.