Miami-Dade County

Judge dismisses Florida school voucher lawsuit

A judge on Tuesday dismissed one of two lawsuits aimed at Florida’s controversial school voucher program.

The suit challenged a 2014 law expanding the Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The program provides private-school scholarships to children from low-income families. It is financed by corporations, which receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits in exchange for their contributions.

A separate lawsuit, which is still pending, alleges the voucher program itself is unconstitutional. Both challenges are being driven by the statewide teachers union.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Charles Francis had already dismissed the first lawsuit, saying the teacher named as the plaintiff did not have legal standing. But it was later amended to include three parents with children in Miami-Dade public schools.

On Tuesday, Francis said the new complaint lacked “a legally sufficient basis” to find that any party had been injured.

He added that “the Court is of the opinion that further amendments to the complaint will not result in a legally sufficient complaint.”

Francis did not address the union’s problems with SB 850, which expanded the voucher program and created a new publicly funded scholarship program for children with special needs. The union said it violated a Constitutional mandate that each law be limited to a single subject.

Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall said she believed Francis had made a mistake.

The union is still deciding whether to appeal the ruling, she said.

“The most pressing [lawsuit] for us is the one that is going to have a hearing on Feb. 9,” McCall said, referring to the second suit. “We believe we will prevail in that.”

Fedrick Ingram, president of United Teachers of Dade, said teachers were not deterred.

“We will do what’s necessary to continue fighting on behalf of the public interest,” he said.

But supporters of the voucher program, including state Attorney General Pam Bondi, considered the news a victory for low-income students.

They hope the ruling foreshadows a victory in the pending lawsuit.

“This ruling supports the argument that the union also has no standing to challenge the tax credit scholarship program in the [other] case,” said Daniel Woodring, an attorney representing the scholarship parents.

More kids take advantage of vouchers in Miami-Dade than any other county in the state: 18,000.

Miami Herald staff writer Christina Veiga contributed to this report.

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