School Choice Program Gets its Day in Florida Supreme Court

Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · April 30, 2018

Tallahassee, Fla.—Today, the Florida Supreme Court agreed to hear a nearly decade-old case challenging the adequacy and uniformity of Florida’s entire public school system. The ruling also has the potential to threaten the state’s thriving school choice programs, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program and John M. McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities, which collectively serve over 130,000 children in the state.

“Florida’s school choice programs have empowered parents in Florida to seek the best education for their children,” said Tim Keller, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represents parents who intervened in the lawsuit. “By agreeing to take this case, the door has been reopened in a sweeping lawsuit that challenges not only the state’s school choice programs, but Florida’s entire public school system as a whole.”

Florida’s First District Court of Appeal ruled in December 2017 that the plaintiffs did not have legal “standing” to challenge the FTC. With regard to the McKay program, the appellate court held 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 Florida Supreme Court’s decision today means that both of those findings could be overturned.

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 school choice programs negatively impacted the public-school system, which is when the six parents represented by the Institute for Justice intervened in the case to defend the school choice programs.

“The Florida Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case gives the Court the opportunity to uphold the findings of the First District Court of Appeal and affirm, once and for all, the constitutionality of school choice in Florida,” said IJ Attorney Ari Bargil. “We look forward to protecting our victory on behalf of our clients and all of Florida’s families.”