Florida Parents Ask State Supreme Court to End Legal Cloud Over Popular Educational Choice Programs

Institute for Justice · April 17, 2018

Arlington, Va.—On Monday, six parents asked the Florida Supreme Court to deny review of a 1st District Court of Appeal’s decision upholding both Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program (FTC) and the John M. McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities. The parents got involved in the case, Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education, to defend their interests in the two educational choice programs. They aim to end the legal uncertainty around the programs with a Supreme Court order allowing the lower court ruling to stand.

“For almost two decades, Florida’s educational choice programs have empowered families to choose the best educational environment for their children,” declared Tim Keller, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice (IJ), which represents the parents defending the scholarships. “The 1st District Court of Appeals decision upholding Florida’s educational choice programs was correct on both the law and the facts. There is no need to allow this case to drag on any longer.”

The appellate court ruled in December 2017 that the plaintiffs in the case, the scholarship programs’ challengers, did not have legal standing to maintain the case because they were not harmed in any way by the FTC program, which is funded entirely by private donations and not tax dollars. In their newly filed legal brief, IJ attorneys argue that the scholarships’ opponents have abandoned their legal challenge to the FTC by not raising any arguments about that program in the Florida Supreme Court. In ruling on the McKay program, the court said that it was “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 plaintiffs originally asked the Supreme Court to review the appellate court decision in January, but the case was put on hold until the Florida Legislature adjourned for the session earlier this month. The lawsuit was originally filed in 2009 and initially limited to the “adequacy” of Florida’s public school system. The lawsuit was amended in 2014, however, to add allegations that the educational choice programs negatively affected the public school system, prompting the six parents that intervened in the case to defend the educational choice programs. Three of the parents have students who rely on FTC scholarships, while the other three intervening families have children who depend on the McKay scholarship program. Combined, the two programs currently serve over 130,000 students across the state.

“The parents and children who rely on Florida’s scholarship programs deserve to know, right now, that the FTC and McKay programs are not in any legal jeopardy,” said IJ attorney Ari Bargil. “It’s time to lift the unnecessary legal cloud hanging over these programs and let the sun shine on educational choice in the Sunshine State.”