FEA appeals voucher decision to Florida Supreme Court

The Florida Education Association called Wednesday for the Florida Supreme Court to step into a fight over the state's de facto school-voucher system, setting off a battle that could determine whether the program can be legally challenged.

The FEA, the largest teachers' union in the state, announced Wednesday that it would ask justices to consider whether the individual plaintiffs and groups who sued to stop the program have "standing," or the legal right to bring a lawsuit.

Last month, a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal upheld a lower court's ruling that the opponents of the program don't have standing.

"It's the job of the judiciary to act as a check and balance on the legislative and executive branches of government," union President Joanne McCall said in a statement about the appeal. "A decade ago, the courts ruled that a previous voucher scheme was unconstitutional. They should examine this voucher plan as well."

Supporters of the tax-credit scholarship program say it is different from the state's former voucher system, which directly used public money to help pay for private school tuition. Instead, the current program gives tax credits to corporations that contribute to organizations providing scholarships to students.

Bishop Victory Curry, chairman of the Save Our Scholarships Coalition, blasted the appeal in a statement issued Wednesday.

"We are very disappointed that the union will continue its effort to evict more than 90,000 poor, mostly minority children from schools that are working for them. ... The union's decision is wrong for the children, and wrong for our public schools," said Curry, whose organization has pushed the union to give up on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in 2014, amid rising tension between the teachers' union and the Legislature over efforts to expand the program.

In addition to the union, the state NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Florida and the Florida Congress of Parents and Teachers joined the case.

Meanwhile, parents of students who receive scholarships asked to join the suit on the side of the state to help defend the system.