South Florida religious leaders back school vouchers

Black religious leaders took to the airwaves on Tuesday to call for an end to legal challenges against Florida’s largest school voucher program.

Bishop Victor Curry used his AM radio show for a “rally” against lawsuits by the statewide teachers union, school boards association and PTA.

“This is our coming together to save our scholarships,” Curry said on air. “Every child deserves a chance to succeed ... and we’re going to fight.”

A lawsuit, filed in August by the statewide teachers union, school boards association and PTA, challenges the constitutionality of the state’s Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The program gives businesses a dollar-for-dollar tax benefit for contributing to an education fund.

The fund provides private-school tuition scholarships of more than $5,000 for about 18,000 kids in Miami-Dade County. Many students choose to attend religious schools, and most scholarship recipients are minorities.

Some parents, educators and students joined Curry on Tuesday to share how they have benefited from the program.

Lynden Simmons, a scholarship student at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, took to the microphone Tuesday to talk about his time in public school.

“It worked for me, but not to my full potential,” he said.

At Christopher Columbus, Simmons said, he feels a “brotherhood” that drives him to succeed.

“The education is unbelievable. There are smaller classes. There are no distractions,” he said.

Others promised to take their frustration to the polls next election season if their local elected representatives don’t come out against the suit.

“Here are kids that don’t have another way out,” said Mark Coats, pastor of Grace of God Baptist Church of Miami. “If they’re doing well, why take that away from them?”

But even the black community is divided when it comes to school vouchers: The NAACP has joined the teachers union lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that Florida’s voucher program goes against a state constitutional requirement to provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools.”

Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall said the union had no plans to drop the lawsuit.

“I think at the end of the day, we’ll win,” she said. “That’s what’s bothersome to them. When people stand up for what’s right, people will try to bat you down.”

Miami Herald reporter Kathleen McGrory contributed to this article.

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