Court throws out teachers’ suit against voucher program

By St. Clair Murraine 

Outlook staff writer

A panel of judges has decided that it couldn’t find anything unconstitutional about a school voucher program, throwing out a lingering suit by the Florida Education Association (FEA) that asked to dismantle the program.

It was the second time during the past two years that the FEA has been rejected by the court. Judge George Reynolds threw out the case almost a year ago on the grounds that he couldn’t find anything unconstitutional about the tax credit program, as the union claimed.

The FEA also claimed that the voucher program, used mostly by low-income families, was depriving funding from the public school system.

Eight months ago, a group of clergy and civil rights leaders led a march by 10,000 children, parents and teachers in downtown Tallahassee. Ironically, the march against the suit took place in front of the Florida Supreme Court.

Rev. R.B. Holmes, whose Bethel Christian Academy participates in the voucher program, was elated over the court’s verdict Tuesday.

“It’s a great decision on behalf of children; especially minority children, Holmes said. “It is a victory. It is my hope and prayer that our friends in the teachers’ union will drop the law suit and let us put our arms together and work for the benefit of students.”

The tax credit program gives parents vouchers for their children to attend any school. Most of the 80,000 participants attend faith-based schools at an average of about $6,000 per voucher each year.
Hispanics make up about 40 percent of participants and 30 percent are Black, according to the Department of Education. Sixty percent of students in the program come from single-parent households, said John Kirtley, whose Step Up for Children administers funding for the program.
However, despite the court’s decision, it wasn’t clear whether the FEA will take its case to the federal Supreme Court, according to attorney Ron Meyer, who represents FEA. He said FEA will take the required 30 days to review the ruling before making a decision.

“It’s always disappointing when you come to court to fight for public schools and before you get to throw the first punch the fight is stopped by the court saying that you don’t have legal standing,” Meyer said. “That is what the court’s decision is.”

Holmes said he hopes the decision put an end to the wrangling between the FEA and advocates of the voucher program.

“It is my hope and desire that we can sit down and find common ground,” he said. “Let’s build a better Florida [and] a better education system for all children.”