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Educational Choice Secured in the Sunshine State

By Ari Bargil

IJ started off 2019 with a big win for educational choice. After years of litigation, we secured a ruling that, once and for all, preserves Florida’s two most popular school choice programs: the McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities and the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship Program.

We became involved in this case almost five years ago, when the plaintiffs in an already-sprawling education lawsuit added constitutional challenges to the McKay and FTC programs. Often, litigation challenging an educational choice program starts immediately after a new program is enacted but before students receive scholarships; in this case, both programs had been in place for nearly two decades and already become wildly popular. Thus, when IJ intervened to defend the programs, we were not just ensuring the programs’ long-term viability but also protecting the educational options of thousands of families in the Sunshine State who were already benefiting from choice. Recent research emphasizes that the programs work. According to the Urban Institute, FTC students are more likely than their peers to enroll in college and earn a degree. That made saving these lifelines for families all the more important.

After a five-week trial in the Florida trial court in 2016, IJ prevailed. Then, on appeal before the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee, IJ won another victory for parents and children in 2017. And finally, this January, after arguing the case before the Florida Supreme Court, we secured a final victory. Our success at every level in this case—the trial court, intermediate appellate court, and Florida Supreme Court—is a product of IJ’s perseverance and our decades of institutional expertise defending educational choice across America.

The payoff was huge. Thanks to IJ’s efforts, approximately 130,000 students will keep their scholarships, and Florida parents need no longer worry about having to return their children to schools that were not meeting their needs. The Court’s decision also spurred renewed interest in expanded educational choice in the state.

Florida continues to be a stronghold for educational choice in America, and IJ stands ready to keep it that way.

Ari Bargil is an IJ attorney.

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