Tallahassee—Today, in a major victory for more than 130,000 students in Florida, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed a lower court ruling that Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program (FTC) and McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities are constitutional. The court held that the challenge to the FTC was eliminated by its earlier 2016 ruling in McCall v. Scott and rejected the argument that the McKay program was rendered unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court’s 2006 opinion in Bush v. Holmes. The Institute for Justice (IJ), the nation’s leading defender of school choice programs, intervened on behalf of six families who use the programs to send their children to the schools of their choice.
“The court recognized that Florida’s school choice programs are a legitimate way to provide parents with the ability to choose the schools that are best suited to meet their children’s unique educational needs,” explained Dick Komer, an IJ senior attorney. “The court further acknowledged the growing evidence that empirically proves that school choice programs benefit both the students and the public schools themselves.”
In its ruling, the court recognized the body of evidence that proves the efficacy of Florida’s school choice programs. As Chief Judge Bradford Thomas explained, “‘research has shown that the McKay program has a positive effect on the public schools, both in terms of lessening the incentive to over-identify students and by increasing the quality of services of the students with disabilities in the public schools.’ It is difficult to perceive how a modestly sized program designed to provide parents of disabled children with more educational opportunities to ensure access to a high quality education could possibly violate the text or spirit of a constitutional requirement of a uniform system of free public schools.”
“The court’s ruling means that these students will not be forced, against the will of their parents, to return to whichever public school their ZIP Code dictates,” said IJ Attorney Ari Bargil. “This court correctly recognized that school choice programs expand opportunity and achievement for students, and without doing so at the expense of the public school system.”
The lawsuit was filed in 2009 and its challenge was originally limited to the “adequacy” of Florida’s public school system as a whole. The FTC is currently used by 98,936 students in Florida, while the McKay program, which benefits only students with disabilities, is used by 31,499 children in the state.
IJ has successfully defended numerous school choice programs, including twice before the U.S. Supreme Court and most recently in Georgia, where the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously upheld a tax-credit scholarship program. IJ currently has one other school choice case pending in Montana.