After lagging for months, the lawsuit challenging Florida's education funding system gained traction again this week, with lawyers submitting arguments urging the state Supreme Court to kill the case rather than send it back to a lower court for further review.
In December, an appellate court upheld the trial court in stating that the parent complaint could not be judged objectively. It found the language in Article IX of the state constitution requiring a "high quality" and "efficient" system to be "political aspirations," and not measurable criteria.
The Supreme Court agreed to consider the issue in April.
Senior deputy solicitor general Rachel Nordby wrote for the state that each of the appellate court's findings against the complaint would be reason enough for the Supreme Court to deny the request for rehearing.
Nordby wrote that Florida offers many educational opportunities for children, and that students' academic achievement has improved over time. It has done so, she contended, with one of the most efficient education systems in the country.
"[E]ven if the First District's justiciability or separation-of-powers reasoning were somehow incorrect, its decision should be approved for other reasons supported by the record," she wrote. "The circuit court correctly found that Plaintiffs proved no causal connection between any alleged lack of school resources and student performance. The weight of the evidence actually showed the absence of such a connection, regardless of the burden of proof."
She offered several arguments regarding why the case is not proper to be heard in court, as well, including that the courts cannot usurp the Legislature's exclusive authority to fund public education.
Ari Bargil of the Institute for Justice filed a response on behalf of six intervenor-parents in the case. The parents use the McKay Scholarship or Florida Tax Credit Scholarship programs, and do not want to see the model transformed by this case.
Bargil argued the constitutionality of the McKay and FTC programs are not proper before the court, and that the petitioners should be barred from making such arguments.
He further questioned the standing of the plaintiffs from bringing these complaints, suggesting they have endured no special injury.
"[A]ccepting Petitioners' theory that tax credits are the equivalent of a direct appropriation of public funds would have ramifications far beyond this case," Bargil wrote.
"The FTC Program is not the only 'tax expenditure' that excludes revenue from the State Treasury. If Petitioners are correct that any money excluded from the treasury could be used to fund public schools, then any exclusion, exemption, deduction, or credit that reduces a taxpayer's tax liability is unconstitutional because—under Petitioners' logic—it diverts money away from public education in violation of Article IX, section 1(a). Pet'rs' Initial Br. 48 (arguing tax credits divert monies that 'would otherwise have been available to fund public schools'). Petitioners' theory would, if accepted by this Court, thus jeopardize the State's entire tax scheme. This Court should avoid this absurd result by rejecting—consistent with the unanimous legal precedent on this issue—the notion that tax credits are the equivalent of public funds."