What color scarf does one wear during National School Litigation Week? No, that’s not an official date on the calendar, but it sure seemed like that this week.
The biggest news of course, was the lawsuit filed yesterday by the Florida teachers union and others to take away the scholarships of 67,000 low-income students. The scholarship tax credit program, enacted in 2001, is the largest in the country and has the support of many African American and Hispanic Democratic legislators and community leaders. An overwhelming majority of participants are minority students, and the attempt to end a longstanding, successful and popular program makes the lawsuit a highly unusual tactic in the battle of school choice.
Agudath Israel of Florida director, Rabbi Moshe Matz, traveled to Tallahassee yesterday and spoke at a press conference in opposition to the lawsuit. Rabbi Matz called the lawsuit “shameful” and argued that the program should be lauded and expanded, not litigated. More than 1,000 students attending Jewish day schools are at risk of losing their scholarships if the lawsuit prevails.
On a positive note, the New Hampshire Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling which had prevented the state’s new scholarship tax credit program from being used at religious schools. The court found that the plaintiffs had no standing and could not show how they were harmed by the program.
In other states however, our opponents are not giving up easily. In North Carolina, school choice supporters and lawmakers petitioned the State Supreme Court this week to allow students to receive scholarship funds from the Opportunity Scholarship Program while the case is litigated. The case has bounced back and forth between Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood, the North Carolina Court of Appeals and the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Finally, in Oklahoma County District Court yesterday, a judge ruled against students using the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities (named after the daughter of Democratic Governor Brad Henry who signed the original legislation into law) to attend a religious school. Thankfully, State Attorney General Scott Pruitt promised to appeal the ruling.
So is school choice at risk? Lawsuits are never good. They scare parents and schools from participating in these programs. They waste valuable resources which could have been better used helping to promote the programs passed by legislators. However, the reason we see more lawsuits is because more programs are being passed around the country as the movement gains momentum. These lawsuits, especially ones litigating established programs such as in Florida and Georgia, are acts of desperation by those opposed to giving choices to families.
Around the country, more than three hundred thousand students are attending a private school, including Jewish day schools, thanks to a scholarship program. We need you to speak up. Let your legislators and your local news media know that you support these vital programs. With your help we will prevail.