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Friday, Nov 28, 2014

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Teachers union challenges bill expanding school vouchers


Published:

The News Service of Florida reports: The state’s largest teachers union filed a legal challenge Wednesday contesting how lawmakers “log rolled” a series of education issues — including an expansion of a controversial school vouchers program — into a single bill that passed in the waning hours of the 2014 legislative session.

The Florida Education Association, a longtime opponent of voucher programs, filed a complaint in circuit court in Leon County challenging the constitutionality of how legislators patched together legislation into a wide-ranging education bill (SB 850).

The voucher expansion had appeared dead in the Senate until getting approved in the broader bill.

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

The lawsuit, which is filed under the name of East Lee County High School social studies teacher Tom Faasse, was quickly criticized as “shameful” and a “new low” by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which was founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, also criticized the lawsuit in a separate statement, saying “it is unfortunate the hard-earned money our teachers contribute to the FEA is now being spent to fund litigation designed to limit educational opportunities for children across our state.”

McCall said after a news conference that the union had been working towards the lawsuit since the bill was approved May 2 by the Legislature. She added that the lawsuit is unrelated to the union’s endorsement of former Gov. Charlie Crist in this year’s gubernatorial race.

The Tax Credit Scholarship Program provides tax credits to companies that donate money to nonprofit entities that then pay for children to go to private schools. Changes to the program were a major priority for House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

Under the new law, a family of four earning up to $62,010 a year will be eligible for at least a partial scholarship, a nearly $20,000 boost from the current $43,568 annual income limit. The value of each individual scholarship also will rise.

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