Florida Supreme Court refuses to hear case on tax credit scholarships

Published Jan. 18, 2017

The long legal fight against Florida's corporate tax credit scholarship program appears to be over.

The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to hear the Florida Education Association's petition seeking standing to challenge the program. See the court order here.

The FEA had failed at each judicial level to prove its standing to fight the scholarships, which some consider vouchers. Florida's First District Court of Appeal ruled most recently in August that the tax credit scholarships were not public taxpayer money and therefore not subject to the union's challenge.

The program allows corporations to donate money for the scholarships and get a tax credit. Low-income students may use the scholarships to attend private schools. Nearly 98,000 students currently participate, according to Step Up for Students, which helps administrate the program.

"The court has spoken, and now is the time for us all to come together to work for the best interests of these children," Step Up's president Doug Tuthill said in a statement on the organization's blog. "We face enormous challenges with generational poverty, and we need all hands on deck."

The fight over tax credit scholarships has become a major cause in Florida's conservative political ranks. Leaders of the Florida School Boards Association have lost their local seats over their support of the lawsuit, a factor in the FSBA's decision to walk away from the suit.

Leaders of a breakaway group that left FSBA over the issue celebrated the court ruling.

"Florida is on the right side of history," Shawn Frost, Florida Coalition of School Board Members president, said in a release. "I am proud to live in a state where educational choices for families are embraced and upheld. ... Let's return Florida's focus to where it belongs: on our students. We must commit to meeting each child's unique needs, and improving academic outcomes for all. When choices work for a child, we should celebrate that success not be threatened by it."

Most recently, House Speaker Richard Corcoran called the FEA "downright evil" for its continued pursuit of the case.

Reaction to the news came quickly on Twitter.

"A big victory for students and parents in FL today!" House Education Appropriations chairman Manny Diaz Jr. wrote. "We will continue to strive to make sure ALL students have a CHOICE!"

The FEA, meanwhile, expressed disgust and frustration with the decision.

"Who is allowed to challenge the constitutionality of the tax credit vouchers?" FEA President Joanne McCall said in a release. "This ruling, and the decisions by the lower court, don't answer that question.

"We still believe that the tax credit vouchers are unconstitutional, but we haven't had the opportunity to argue our case in court. We're baffled that the courts would deny taxpayers the right to question state expenditures. This decision has ramifications beyond this challenge to a voucher program."