School Choice Programs Survive Despite Challenges from Teachers’ Unions

Have you ever heard of an education savings account? Arizona enacted a law to establish this helpful program and now other states are starting to follow their example. So what is the account? According to the Friedman Foundation:

“Under Arizona’s plan, designed by the Goldwater Institute in 2005 and enacted in 2011, the state awards eligible families 90 percent of their children’s per student public funding, based on a state formula. The Arizona Department of Education deposits the money in a private bank account that parents control with a use-restricted debit card. Because account spending is flexible, parents can buy textbooks, hire a tutor, enroll their children in online classes, pay private school tuition, or even save for future college expenses.”

“The only children eligible for an account in the 2011–12 and 2012–13 school years were children with special needs. In 2013, students in Arizona public schools graded D or F became eligible to apply, along with children in military families, and youth adopted from the state foster care system. New applicants must have attended a public school for at least 100 days in the prior school year. Today, some 200,000 Arizona children are eligible—nearly one in five public school students.”

One of the states that followed Arizona’s program was New Hampshire. The teachers’ union in the state filed a lawsuit to stop the law from taking effect. However, last month, the New Hampshire State Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit, stating that the union failed to provide any evidence that they were being harmed by the personalized educational savings accounts.

Florida also modeled a similar law after Arizona’s program establishing the Personal Learning Scholarship Account (PLSA). It wasn’t long after when the largest teachers’ union in the sunshine state filed their lawsuit to stop the PLSA law from going into effect. They claimed that giving parents such a broad number of educational choices violated the state’s ‘one subject rule.’

Last week, a circuit court judge followed the example set by the New Hampshire Supreme Court and dismissed the lawsuit. This court likewise said that the union failed to provide any evidence indicating that they would be harmed by giving parents more choices.

Parents wanting the ability to use the accounts to help with their child’s education are not able to celebrate just yet. As reported by EAG News:

“Florida’s school choice laws aren’t out of the woods just yet. A slew of anti-school choice activists, including the teachers union, state school boards association, and the state PTA, filed two separate legal challenges against the state’s school choice laws, alleging that they violate the state constitution’s historically anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment, which prohibits public funds from being expended at religious schools, and the state’s ‘uniformity’ clause. However, as Andrew J. Coulson recently explained, the lawsuits are without merit:”

‘The first claim, that public monies are being spent on religious education, is simply false. In addition to the U.S. Supreme Court […] the Arizona Supreme Court, and Illinois district courts have also concluded that donations made under education tax credit programs are not public money. Black’s law dictionary agrees, as the Arizona court observed.’

‘Plaintiffs’ second argument is that the tax credit program violates Article IX, Section 1 of the Florida constitution, which states that “Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.” The Florida supreme court ruled in Bush v. Holmes that the state’s publicly-funded school voucher system violated this clause, because “it diverts public dollars” from “the sole means set out in the Constitution for the state to provide for the education of Florida’s children.”’

‘It is worth noting that Florida’s constitution does not stipulate that the uniform system of free public schools must be the sole means of providing for children’s education. On the contrary, it explicitly authorizes—in the very same sentence—such “other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.” The majority on the Bush court decided to interpret away this clause, claiming that it referred exclusively to junior colleges and adult education outside K-12 schooling. Though they cited a precedent for this claim (Board of Public Instruction v. State Treasurer, 231 So. 2d 1, 1970), the given case does not support their contention. That precedent merely states that junior colleges and adult education happen to fall within the meaning of “other public education programs,” not that they are the only programs that do so.’

Chances are that both of these lawsuits will end up before the Florida Supreme Court. Hopefully the state’s high court will uphold the rights of parents and dismiss or rule against both cases.

It doesn’t surprise me to see the teachers’ unions fighting so hard to strike down any law that gives parents more choices and flexibility. They don’t want anything to hinder their efforts to brainwash and mould students to be good little socialists. Allowing parents to make more choices and possibly take the kids out of the public school system is completely unacceptable to them. That’s why these cases are so important and need to be watched to see how the courts rule.