Last week the Florida Supreme Court upheld two landmark parental choice programs, ending ten years of litigation.
Plaintiffs filed their lawsuit, Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education, back in 2009, alleging that the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for low-income students and the McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program divert funds from public schools and violate the constitutional requirement that the state provide “an efficient, safe, secure and uniform high-quality education” (see here and here).
These are two of the country’s largest parental choice programs serving nearly 130,000 students combined. They’re also popular with students and parents. Since 2009, enrollment in the Tax Credit Scholarship program has almost quadrupled, while enrollment in the McKay Scholarship program has grown by more than 40 percent.
Opponents’ claims that these programs “drain money” has also been repeatedly disproven. In a nutshell, because the value of choice scholarships is lower than the per-pupil expense of sending a student to public school, those programs generate significant savings for states.
In fact, every fiscal analysis of the Florida tax-credit scholarship program shows that the program saves money. A recent official government analysis, for example, showed that for every dollar spent on the tax-credit scholarship program, the state realizes a savings of $1.49—a stunning 149 percent return on investment. Likewise, the McKay Scholarship program for special needs students has saved $1.5 billion since 2000, a savings of roughly $5,500 per student (p. 28).
Yet the Florida Supreme Court addressed a much larger issue than dollars and cents. In their majority opinion, the justices wrote:
The manifest goal of the Petitioners and the dissenting justices is to put educational funding and educational policy firmly under the control of the judiciary. …The response to such a judicial decision would involve judicial control of educational funding levels and judicial control of how educational funds are used. There is no reason to believe that the judiciary is competent to make these complex and difficult policy choices. And there is every reason to believe that arrogating such policy choices to the judiciary would do great violence to the separation of powers established in our Constitution (p. 36)
Summing up, the justices noted:
At its core, this is a case in search of a remedy. … if the Petitioners and the dissenters had their way, judges would simply apply their own policy preferences. This collides with the basic principle of our constitutional structure… (pp. 38 and 39).
The plaintiffs, repeatedly defeated politically, turned to the courts. Thankfully, the courts rejected their attempted political end run around the state’s legislature, providing an important victory for the students of Florida, many of whom have been able to choose an education that meets their individual needs because of these important scholarship programs.