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Tuesday Twofer: More Legal Victories for School Choice

This year has been a big year for school choice, and a decidedly bad year for teachers unions. First, a red tidal wave surged across the country in the 2014 elections despite record union spending in an effort to stop it. Then, the school choice aftershocks started. Alabama became America’s 43rd charter state, Nevada passed a very strong scholarship tax credit program that was subsequently signed into law, and Arkansas said yes to a new voucher program for special needs kids. To round things out, Montana took a step in the right direction by passing a small school choice pilot program. Wow!

We recently talked about the NEA president’s recent comment that education policy should be left “… where it belongs: The legislature.” As I highlighted then, this is an interesting statement given a number of union-led legal attacks on school choice programs around the country (including Douglas County). I cynically posited then that I suspected the unions would challenge policies they don’t like anywhere they can win. As it turns out, they may not be able to win anywhere at all.

New Hampshire won its school choice battle late last year, and now it looks like Louisiana and Florida are one step closer to winning theirs despite relentless legal assaults.  A recent Education Week article covers the highlights well. We’ll start with Louisiana:

On Friday, a Louisiana district judge rejected the state teachers’ union argument that the way Louisiana funded some charter schools was unconstitutional, according to the Associated Press.

The Louisiana Association of Educators sued to block funding to charter schools approved by the state education board because those schools are run outside of local systems but were still receiving funding that was supposed to be allocated to city and parish schools. At stake was about $60 million in funding for around 30 schools statewide.

That’s great news for the Louisiana charters affected by this suit. Yet that’s not the only win for choice that I have to report today. A union-led suit against Florida’s longstanding, very successful, and absolutely enormous scholarship tax credit program has also fallen flat.

Meanwhile on Monday, a Florida judge dismissed a union-backed lawsuit challenging that state’s tax-credit scholarship program because the plaintiffs couldn’t prove they were harmed by the law and therefore didn’t have grounds to sue.

The Florida Education Association claimed that Florida’s Opportunity Scholarships ultimately—and illegally—funnel state dollars to private religious institutions, albeit in a very indirect way. Through the program, the state gives tax-credits to businesses that donate money to nonprofit scholarship organizations. Those organizations in turn give money to low- and middle-income kids to attend private schools.

You’ll recall that the standing issue was also the key to victory in New Hampshire’s case, which followed the legal logic of a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision on a similar program in Arizona. The quick and dirty version of that legal logic is this: The plaintiffs don’t meet even the basic legal requirements required to bring a lawsuit against the program in the first place. The end result is that none of the contorted arguments that the union had planned to make will even be heard. Bummer for them, but great news for 70,000 kids in Florida!

Of course, there’s always the possibility that these decisions will be reversed. The Louisiana case is already headed to appeal, and the Florida Education Association is still pondering its next play in the legal war on choice. At the risk of being overly optimistic, however, I’m inclined to say that the odds are definitely stacked in favor of the kiddos at this point. And that’s exactly as it should be.