FL Teacher’s Union Vows to Continue Fight Against School Choice Despite Defeat

Union opposes efforts of disabled students to use state money for better education

School choice rally in Tallahassee, Fla. / AP
January 7, 2015

Despite suffering a courthouse defeat last week, Florida’s teachers union remains undeterred in its fight against educational reforms that include the expansion of school choice for disabled students.

A circuit judge for a second time dismissed a lawsuit by the Florida Education Association last week that challenged the state’s Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts. The accounts allow special needs students to use a portion of their state education funding for a variety of educational funding, including private school tuition and tutoring.

The FEA is considering an appeal of the judge’s ruling in Faasse v. Scott.

The union is also hoping for success in another lawsuit, McCall v. Scott, which it filed against the state’s tax credit scholarship program.

Parents of children in that program filed a motion to dismiss yesterday, arguing the suit should be dropped for the same reasons as the Faasse suit: The plaintiffs cannot show they are harmed by the program.

"There is no reason to reach a different result in this case, where plaintiffs rely on the same purported showing of special injury," the motion states. "As in Faasse (the previous case), plaintiffs assert that they are ‘injured by the scholarship program’s diversion of resources from the public schools.’"

The FEA did not respond to a request for comment. However, it indicated after the judge’s ruling in the first lawsuit the possibility of an appeal on its Facebook page.

The FEA said it would meet this week to decide whether to appeal.

"The Florida Education Association will consider appealing today’s dismissal of its lawsuit against the state’s school choice programs—but the union has pinned most of its hopes on a second lawsuit," the posting said.

A hearing for the second lawsuit is scheduled for February 9 in Tallahassee.

The Goldwater Institute joined the State of Florida in defending the Personal Learning Scholarship Account program in the first lawsuit. It represented families using PLSAs and the children are some of the first ones enrolled in the program.

Many of the children represented by Goldwater have severe special needs and are benefitting from the PLSA.

They include Brandon Berman who has autism and suffers from congenital muscular dystrophy and spastic paraplegia. Because of his disabilities, Berman was unable to attend school. By law, the public school system is required to provide him with an appropriate education—and that consisted of four hours of instruction a week.

"I think it was a great decision and I think it really lifted the burden hanging over the parents in the PLSA program," Goldwater Institute Attorney Jared Blanchard told the Free Beacon.

"There was great concern they could lose funding," Blanchard said. The parents were faced with the possibility that they’d be unable to provide the education tailored to their children’s needs, said Blanchard.

The parents were "thrilled" with the judge’s decision. "They have been very happy with PLSA," Blanchard said, and "it means they can continue to focus on what’s important." That is, continuing to provide an education that meets their children’s needs.

If the union decides to appeal, Goldwater is ready to once again fight for the program.

"If they decide to appeal we are ready to fight them at the appeal level," said Blanchard. "We will continue to defend these programs, and we’re ready for the next fight anywhere it may arise."

A diverse coalition including faith-based organizations has urged the FEA to drop its lawsuit.