Florida’s teachers union is launching a legal offensive against a recent bill that expands access to the state’s school voucher program, the group announced Wednesday.
The Florida Education Association (FEA) told reporters that Florida Senate Bill 850 was passed in an unconstitutional manner that means it should not be implemented.
The new law creates a new program that provides funding for disabled students to purchase private tutoring, educational materials and other services.
In addition, the bill expands the state’s Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, which offers vouchers to help low-income families pay for private schooling. The added funding will open up the vouchers to families at higher income levels. Prior to the law, a family of four had to earn less than $43,568 to qualify. Now, the maximum income for such a family is $62,010, and increase of nearly $19,000.
The voucher components passed in an unusual manner, with an amendment over 100 pages in length being added at the very end of the 2014 legislative session to an unrelated education bill that addressed issues such as career training and hazing. The FEA claims this tactic was used to sneak through a measure that did not have majority support.
“This was a sneaky way for the legislative leaders to enact measures that had already failed,” FEA vice president Joanne McCall told reporters.
Although every part of the bill did involve education in some manner, the FEA plans to challenge on the grounds the bill violated a Florida constitutional prohibition on “logrolling,” or passing bills that involve multiple unrelated subjects.
“Is this any way to pass laws?” high school social studies teacher Tom Faasse said in a statement released to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The people of Florida should expect that laws are clearly expressed and properly vetted and that laws that failed to pass shouldn’t be tacked onto unrelated legislation at the 11th hour.” Faasse is the lead plaintiff in the newly-announced lawsuit.
While most of their criticisms centered on the bill’s method of passage, the FEA is more directly motivated by its hostility to school vouchers, which it criticized extensively during its announcement.
“These voucher schools have little regulation, don’t have to follow the state’s academic standards, don’t have to hire qualified teachers and don’t have to prove to the state that they are using public money wisely. There’s no link between vouchers and gains in student achievement. Yet the Legislature continues to expand voucher schools instead of providing proper funding for our neighborhood public schools,” said McCall.
Supporters of the law, including the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an advocacy group founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush, accuse Florida’s teachers of turning their backs on children with autism, Down’s Syndrome, and other disabilities.
“This is a new low for the FEA,” said Foundation president Patricia Levesque in a statement. “It is shameful that they would spend teachers’ hard-earned dollars to block opportunities for our most vulnerable students.”
“There are those who believe families should have options and trust parents in those decisions for their kids,” Levesque continued. “And sadly there are those who find educational choices threatening to their political power.
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