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Teachers square off in court over vouchers

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Supporters of vouchers for 78,000 private schoolchildren and the state’s teachers union squared off in a state appeals court Tuesday. The teachers want the vouchers declared unconstitutional, but they first have to convince the appeals court they were harmed when the money went to private instead of public schools.

The state is losing about $450 million this year in tax revenue going to voucher students. It is expected to grow to as much as $550 million next year.

In January, 2,000 Florida teachers came to the Capitol upset about working conditions and the lack of funding. Four days later, 10,000 kids receiving vouchers for private schools took the day off to protest a lawsuit the teachers had filed challenging the voucher program.

The two sides squared off in an appeals court. A lower court found the teachers were not harmed by the scholarship program and could not sue. Now they are appealing to get their day in court.

“If we really believed that there are schools that aren’t doing what they are supposed to be doing, then it is the state’s responsibility to get in there and shore up those schools for every student. Not give some an out,” Florida Education Association President Jo Ann Mc Call said.

The scholarships are funded by donations from private corporations, who then get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for what they give.

Supporters of the voucher program said a ruling against it could be catastrophic for kids.

“If we do not win this lawsuit, then 80,000 boys and girls will be literally evicted from their schools,” the Rev. R.B. Holmes, with Bethel Baptist Church, said.

Tampa mom Cheryl Joseph brought her three kids to watch.

“When it came to the middle school, it was a C school. I didn’t want my kids going to a C school," Joseph said.

The voucher program provides each student with just over $5,600 a year for tuition.