Scholarships for Low-Income and Special-Needs Students in Florida Safe for Now

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For two years, two extensive school choice programs in Florida were threatened with a constitutional lawsuit, putting thousands of families at risk of losing critical scholarship funds. That looming threat was blocked yesterday, when Judge George Reynolds of the Second Circuit Court of Leon County, Florida declared both of the scholarship programs constitutional.

Though the plaintiffs can now appeal the decision, IJ Attorney Tim Keller is confident that these scholarship programs will stand, as those in other states that have faced similar challenges have. Keller said after the ruling:

“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. This is a critical victory in this long-running case, which we are confident will be sustained on appeal.”

The two programs included the Florida Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship, which offers tax credits in exchange for private contributions to student scholarships. Families of modest means can then apply for those scholarships to attend the private school of their choice. The other was the McKay Scholarship for Pupils with Disabilities, which provides scholarships specifically to students who have special needs.

When the challenge to the programs was presented in 2014, both had already been on the books, and helping students in need, for over ten years. That was when the Institute for Justice intervened on behalf of six Florida families.

Despite plaintiffs’ claims that these programs were diverting money away from the traditional public schools, the court agreed with IJ that it is perfectly constitutional for aid to be provided to families. As IJ Attorney Ari Bargil noted, the evidence suggests that these programs are also beneficial to the public schools:

“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.”

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