LAND O’ LAKES — Last month, the Florida School Boards Association notified state Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, that he had been named the organization’s 2014 Legislator of the Year.
On Friday, Legg said no thanks.
He declined the award because the association was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Thursday seeking to have Florida’s biggest private-school voucher program declared unconstitutional.
“It is now apparent to me that the association’s stance on educating low income students and access to choice in education is too conflicting with my own,” Legg wrote in a letter to Wayne Blanton, the association’s executive director.
“It saddens me that the FSBA would take a position that looks to eliminate customization in education, an approach which is widely viewed to be essential to improving student learning.”
The lawsuit claims that Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program has led to a parallel system of education that is separate and unequal.
Under the program, companies provide money for private-school scholarships for disadvantaged children, then get tax credits equal to their donations. About 69,000 students in Florida receive vouchers.
The Florida Education Association, a teachers’ union, and the NAACP’s Florida State Conference also are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
United School Employees of Pasco, which supports the lawsuit, said in a statement this week that the voucher program is an attempt “by the Legislature to establish a state program to pay for the private education of Florida children in largely unregulated private schools, diverting for that purpose funds that otherwise would support those children’s education in the system of free public schools required by the Florida Constitution.”
Legg, though, sees the lawsuit as something that could deprive economically challenged students of educational options that meet their needs.
In his letter to Blanton, Legg said he hopes “the FSBA will abandon this hostile view toward low income students and customization.”
“Please know having grown up in a very low income household, my position will always be to advocate for access, quality and customization for all students, but especially for those who don’t have the resources to access a quality education,” Legg wrote.
Legg is chairman of the state Senate’s education committee and also helped found Dayspring Academy, a charter school in Pasco County.
The FSBA had planned to present the Legislator of the Year award to Legg in December during its annual conference in Tampa, or at a local school board meeting or other event if the conference dates didn’t work for him.