Oral arguments were heard in the Joanne McCall vs. Governor Scott lawsuit yesterday. The Florida Education Association, Florida League of Women Voters and the NAACP support the suit. It is not clear that the judges in the First District Court of Appeals agree. They must now decide whether the trial will go forward. A video of the hearing will be available on the Florida 1st District Court of Appeal soon.
The issue is whether tax credit vouchers to send students to private, mostly religious schools is constitutional.
It comes down to when is a tax—a tax? The legislature allows corporations to redirect their taxes to Step Up for Students to distribute scholarships to eligible children. Income eligibility is moving up. Now, families earning $63,000 may receive partial scholarships.
The Florida constitution does not allow state funding for private schools. State attorneys argue that the tax credit scholarships come from corporations, not the State. Even though the legislature has enabled the diversion of funds owed in taxes, the State does not directly spend the money, corporations do.
The legal argument over standing is whether the program harms children. If so, the case goes forward. The FEA attorney argues that children and the public school system are harmed. Evidence to support this claim would be presented if the judges allow the case to proceed.
At stake is $559,082,031 for over 77,000 children in 2016-17 The scholarships are $5886 and are primarily awarded to small religious schools. It is no surprise that a coalition of black ministers favor the scholarships in spite of the fact that the NAACP opposes the scholarships.
An even more fundamental issue is on trial. Tax credit scholarships are one leg of the move to privatize education. One can argue that this option is motivated by a desire to lower costs at the expense of quality. Private schools are exempt from public school standards, accountability and certification requirements.