Appeals court rules FEA lacks standing to challenge corporate tax credit scholarships
Florida's First District Court of Appeal has affirmed a lower court ruling that the Florida Education Association lacks standing to challenge the state's corporate tax credit scholarship program, which allows poor children to attend private schools.
The FEA has contended that the scholarships are unconstitutional vouchers, and has sought to have the system voided. It has claimed the program improperly diverts money from public schools to private schools.
The state, by contrast, has argued that the money does not come from public funds and is not subject to the same scrutiny as if they were part of the general operating budget. The program allows corporations to donate money to the scholarship program and get a tax credit.
The court sided with the state in its ruling.
"The sole issue before this Court is whether Appellants have standing to challenge the FTCSP," the court wrote. In order to have standing to challenge a governmental action, a citizen taxpayer must show that he or she suffered or will suffer a special injury, distinct from other members of the community at large."
In this instance, the court ruled, the FEA "failed to allege any concrete harm whatsoever."
"Appellants argue that but for the tax credits offered in exchange for contributions to SFOs, taxpayers would remit their full tax liability to the state, state revenues would increase, and the Legislature would appropriate those revenues to fund the public school system, in some manner that would benefit Appellants. This argument is founded entirely on supposition. To reach such a conclusion, the trial court would be required to anticipate whether the tax credit program positively or negatively stimulates economic growth, and thus affects state revenue collection."
The court further distinguished this case from other voucher challenges, saying in those cases, specific harms were demonstrated. It also rejected the argument that the Legislature had overstepped its spending and taxing authority.
FEA president Joanne McCall said her group would consider whether to appeal after carefully reading all the details.
"We're disappointed and we're frustrated," she told the Gradebook. "If we don't have standing, who does have standing? This really is a constitutional issue. I think they're absolutely wrong."
She argued that if the courts would look at the merits of the case, they would oppose the scholarship program.
"It seems political to us," McCall said. "The taxpayers of this state deserve better than what the court is giving them at this time."
The chairman of a group pushing to end the lawsuit used the ruling to forward his message.
"We call upon the plaintiffs to give priority to the 90,000 poor minority children in the program and drop the suit," Bishop Victor Curry, New Birth Baptist Church in Miami and chairman of the Save Our Scholarships Coalition, said in a released statement. "It's long past time for all of us who care so passionately about public education to put aside our differences and work together. This sweeping ruling should compel us to focus on the real enemies - despair, hopelessness, and the ravages of generational poverty."