In spite of the mass rally by private school advocates in Tallahassee last January, the Florida Education Association and the League of Women Voters will have their day in court. The First District Court of Appeals will hear the case on May 10th.
Some arguments may include the following:
The Circuit Court in Tallahassee threw out the case in May 2015 for lack of standing. Essentially Judge Reynolds argued that the FEA attorneys did not show harm to the public schools due to the tax credit scholarship funding. It will be an interesting argument in the appeals court.
Vouchers paid from state funds to send students to private schools were declared unconstitutional by the state’s Supreme Court. The state then did a work around, which other states now also use, to provide the scholarships. Florida corporations can receive a tax rebate if they donate the taxes they owe to private foundations. These foundations, like Step Up for Students, distribute the money for the scholarships. In this way, the money never directly goes to the state, so the state argues the tax credit scholarships (vouchers) are not from state funds. Nice ploy. The money is owed to the state, but the state never gets it.
Harm to the public schools can come in many forms. Some public schools are now under enrolled which makes them cost inefficient. Some have had to close and consolidate students. About three fourths of the private schools are religious. Thus, the vouchers are promoting not only privatization of education, but also violating separation of church and state policies.
There are other concerns as well. Private schools are exempt from state standards, testing and accountability laws. They do not have teacher certification requirements. Students from private schools who return to public schools tend to be the lowest achieving children. They are further behind when they return than similar students who never left. There may well be harm to not only public schools, but to the children themselves.
At issue is really the privatization of our public schools. We already know that privatization is recreating segregation, both economic and racial. Since the scholarships go to many small church schools, they are a financial incentive to increase segregation. Unfortunately, these schools are often as inefficient as the public schools they are decimating. We are taking the same pot of money in the state and dividing it up three ways: public, charter, and private schools. Overhead costs remain, but the students take the money with them. How this is in the public interest is at stake.
Privatization is about money–who receives it. It is not about meeting children’s needs.