From Orlando Sentinel reporter Leslie Postal:
A sweeping lawsuit that argues Florida failed to adequately fund its public education system should be amended so that the state’s support of voucher programs and charter schools can also be challenged, attorneys for the plaintiffs said today. They have asked the court to allow them to amend the lawsuit, filed in 2009.
The lawsuit — with the Orlando-based Fund Education Now as one of the plaintiffs — argues Florida has failed to provide its students with a “uniform” and “high quality” public education demanded in the Florida Constitution.
The original lawsuit cited shrinking budgets, low graduation rates and a faulty school accountability system, among other problems.
The amended complaint says Florida hasn’t funded its pre-K program adequately and has improperly allowed charter schools and two other choice programs, the Tax-Credit Scholarship Program and the McKay Scholarship program, to flourish.
“Florida is failing our public school students,” said Jodi Siegel, executive director of Southern Legal Counsel, which has brought the lawsuit. “The State does not provide sufficient resources and appropriate services for public school children, especially children from low income families or those with special learning needs.”
The two voucher programs provide scholarships students from low-income families and students with disabilities can use to attend private schools.
But the lawsuit’s complaint says those programs do not require that students take the same courses or standardized tests as youngsters in public school, nor do they require the private school teachers — even those that work with disabled kids — to be well educated. The scholarship programs also send most students to religious schools.
The new complaint says by setting up these programs, the Florida Legislature “intended to divert public money” to private institutions.
Florida’s first voucher program, the Opportunity Scholarship program, was challenged in court and shut down as unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court. But the other two programs have not been challenged previously.
Read the rest here.
Postal’s revelation that Step Up for Students blog predicted last month that “Florida’s school choice programs would subject of attack in a revised lawsuit” shows them to be in the loop. The piece was written by Travis Pillow, long considered to be one of the top education reporters in Florida. The most recent hire, Pillow is the fourth former Florida journalist to be hired by Step Up for Students to write for them. The other three are Jon East, Ron Matus and Sherrie Ackerman.
As SUFS is certain to be covering – and offering commentary – on the trial that’s expected to begin in August, its reasonable to ask whether of not they will be violating provisions in the new voucher expansion bill. With concerns that SUFS is using taxpayer money intended for vouchers, the following language was put into the new bill:
No funds authorized under this subparagraph shall be used for lobbying or political activity or expenses related to lobbying or political activity.
Moreover, positioning themselves against the lawsuit will represent a position against adequate public school funding. Pillow’s post yesterday on the lawsuit was an example of professional journalism. It will be interesting to see if SUFS’s coverage of the trial includes opinion pieces.