BRIEF: School Choice in the States, July 2018
LEGISLATION AND LITIGATION
District of Columbia
Washington, D.C.’s fiscal budget request to Congress was signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser. In it, the District requested $45 million for its Opportunity Scholarship Program, a voucher funded by Congress.
Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education and Celeste Johnson, Case No. SC18-67
On July 30, EdChoice and the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce filed an amicus brief in Citizens for Strong Schools v. FL State Bd of Education, now pending before the Florida Supreme Court. The brief is in support of Celeste Johnson and five other parent intervenors as well as Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) and John M. Mckay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program.
This case was originally filed in 2009. Since then, Citizens for Strong Schools lost their case in the trial courts and appellate court. They allege that Florida has failed to uphold Article IX, Section 1(a) of the Florida state constitution, which reads,
“The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education . . .”
The trial court held a four-week trial and concluded that Florida’s system of education is rationally related to satisfying the requirements of Article IX, that the terms “efficient” and “high quality” are non-justiciable, that education in Florida is improving and shows no indication of a lack of adequate funding, that the McKay program does not impact public school funding or uniformity, and that plaintiffs had no standing to challenge the FTC because it is privately funded, does not divert state public school funding and is not detrimental to public schools. The appellate court agreed. The appellate court said further that the FTC does not violate limitations on the state’s taxing and spending authority and does not involve any payment from the state’s treasury. Furthermore, the McKay program does not violate the uniformity of the public school system, and it provides a material benefit for both public schools and children with disabilities.
Oral argument has been requested and may be scheduled for a date later this year.
The Louisiana Department of Education announced new rules for private schools that accept voucher students from the Louisiana Scholarship Program. Schools will be banned from accepting new voucher students if their turnover is greater than or equal to one-third of enrollment for two consecutive years.
This past month saw changes to New Hampshire’s tax-credit scholarship program. Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law HB 1686, a bill that would expand the state’s tax-credit scholarship program to allow donors to scholarship organizations to receive 85 percent tax credits against the Interest and Dividends tax. Additionally, HB 1819 was enacted on July 1, 2018, streamlines some of the program regulations, making it possible for the scholarship organization to serve more students.
Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico v. Departamento de Educación
On July 20, EdChoice filed an amicus brief, in Spanish, in Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico v. Departamento de Educación, now pending before the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The brief is in support of the Puerto Rico Department of Education and Intervenor Parent, and Puerto Rico’s recently enacted voucher program. Readers may click to read the Spanish version and/or the English translation version.
Here’s the back story.
On July 13, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico granted the urgent motion of the Attorney General and accepted a direct appeal of Association of Teachers v. Department of Revenue (Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico v. Departamento de Educación) from the trial court (Tribunal de Primera Instancia). On June 7, the trial court held that Puerto Rico’s Public Schools Alliance (charter schools) and Free Selection of Schools (voucher) programs, enacted as part of the omnibus Educational Reform Law of 2018, are unconstitutional. The Supreme Court accepted the case and stayed the ruling of the trial court.
The Puerto Rico Supreme Court furthermore stated that all parties to the case would have five business days to file briefs, which is highly unusual. Typically, each party would have 30 to 45 days to file a brief and amici would be due seven to 10 days after the side they’re supporting had filed their brief; first the party appealing the judgment would file, then amici for that party, then the other party, then amici for the other party, and finally, the party appealing the judgment would file a reply brief. However, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court ordered all parties to file their briefs all at once, and allowed only one week for briefs to be drafted and filed. The Court furthermore stated that no extensions of time would be permitted.
In defending the unusually short time frame and procedure, Justice Estrella Martínez stated that this is a case of “high public interest” that merits a decision before the start of the school year. Justice Martinez said that the department of education has been unable, for decades, to guarantee that Puerto Rico’s children would realize the fullness of their right to an education as provided in Puerto Rico’s Constitution and that charter schools and vouchers could advance the principle of equality and allow real opportunities for gifted students, athletes and children of limited resources. Justice Martinez stated that recent decisions of the federal courts, and the crisis in education now facing Puerto Rico, merit the Supreme Court’s consideration, urgently (citing Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, 582 US __ (2017) and Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 US 639 (2002)).
A decision is expected prior to the first day of the 2018–19 school term, which is tentatively scheduled for August 16, 2018.
IN OTHER NEWS
National Conference of State Legislatures
A team from EdChoice attended this year’s National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Summit in Los Angeles. EdChoice President and CEO Robert Enlow participated in a lunch conversation about school choice with education committee members and staffers. He was joined by experts from the Reason Foundation and The Brookings Institution.
Council for American Private Education
EdChoice Senior Director of State Relations Michael Chartier and State Director Lauren Hodge attended the annual summer meeting of the Council for American Private Education (CAPE) in Detroit. EdChoice presented on the issue of messaging and school choice in today’s challenging political environment.