Victory: Judge Declares Florida School Choice Programs Constitutional

Circuit Court Ruling Protects Scholarships for Low-Income and Special-Needs Families

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Tallahassee, Fla.—Families across Florida can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their scholarships are safe from a lingering legal challenge, pending appeal. Today, Judge George Reynolds of the Second Circuit Court of Leon County declared two school choice scholarship programs constitutional.

The scholarships include the Florida Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship, which allows families of modest means to collect scholarship funds raised by private contributions, and the McKay Scholarship for Pupils with Disabilities, which provides scholarships to students with special needs. Both of the programs were challenged on constitutional grounds back in 2014, despite the fact that both of them had been popular and widely utilized for over a decade.

“The evidence presented in this case shows that school choice works to improve public education, by encouraging school districts to keep eligible families satisfied with their public schools,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Ari Bargil. “When public schools can no longer take continued attendance of low-income children and children needing special education for granted, they will do a better job of serving those students.”

The Institute for Justice (IJ) intervened on behalf of six Florida families after the challenge was put forth. The plaintiffs made the argument that the scholarships “diverted” money away from public schools, which the judge pointed out was not the case.

“The premise of their lawsuit has always been that Florida has failed to make adequate provision for a high quality system of public schools,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dick Komer, “ which one would think would mean they would be sympathetic to parents who have used these two programs to move their children from public to private schools. Instead, the plaintiffs sought to kill these programs, which would have forced tens of thousands of students back into schools the plaintiffs argued are inadequate.”

As with other challenges to school choice programs, IJ has made the case that parents should have control over where and how their children are educated, regardless of their zip code or economic status.

“The parents of more than one hundred thousand Florida school children who use these two programs can rest easier tonight thanks to Judge Reynolds’ decision today,” said IJ Managing Attorney Tim Keller. “This is a critical victory in this long-running case, which we are confident will be sustained on appeal.”

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