Florida teachers union files legal challenge to voucher expansion law

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauJuly 16, 2014 

TALLAHASSEE -- The state teachers union filed a legal challenge to a controversial education bill Wednesday, saying it violates the constitutional requirement that legislative proposals be limited to a single subject.

The bill, SB 850, was signed into law last month. Among other things, it expands the state school voucher program and creates new scholarships for children with special needs. The scholarships can be used for private tutoring, educational materials and various types of therapies.

The so-called “personal learning scholarship accounts” are being rolled out this week.

The lawsuit from the Florida Education Association raises concerns about the way SB 850 became law.

Some of the bill’s more contentious provisions, including the voucher expansion and the scholarship accounts, started out as stand-alone proposals that had difficulty finding support. They were added to a bill about collegiate high schools on the second-to-last day of the legislative session.

“This was a sneaky way for the legislative leaders to enact measures that had already failed,” Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall said Wednesday. “It is an outrage that corporate voucher expansion was tacked into an unrelated bill and slipped into law on the final day of session.”

The final version of the bill also addressed career education, dropout prevention, hazing and middle-school reform.

Supporters of the new law, including incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said the lawsuit would limit opportunities for children.

“I find it hard to believe that this lawsuit embodies the views of the talented teachers across our state who actually work with these children day in and day out and see the progress they are capable of making if provided the appropriate tools,” Gardiner said in a statement.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education, the education think tank founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush, called the legal challenge “a new low” for the union.

“As a society, we must work to unlock education opportunities for students who need them the most,” CEO Patricia Levesque said. “Senate Bill 850 will help children with Down's syndrome, autism and other developmental disabilities have greater choices and the critical support necessary for successful education outcomes.”

Neither she nor Gardiner addressed the substance of the legal challenge.

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