Leaders of the local GOP have weighed in on the legal battle over Florida’s school voucher program.
The Republican Party of Duval County's Executive Committee passed a resolution earlier this week opposing the lawsuit filed against the tax credit scholarship program, which assists families to pay for private education.
“I think it’s important that Republicans make their principles known,” said Duval GOP Chairman Rick Hartley. “To us, the education of children is more important than turf battles over unions and bureaucrats.”
The Committee voted on the measure Monday evening and mailed copies to each of its 180 voting members, Hartley said. He said he hoped it would get the attention of local school board members.
"I hope they will listen to us," he said. "I don't really expect that will happen."
The program currently serves about 60,000 students across the state. However, the lawsuit alleges that it violates the state's constitution by using tax dollars to pay for education in private institutions, which often have religious affiliations and are largely unregulated.
The list of plaintiffs in the suit includes the Florida Education Association, the Florida School Board Association, the state PTA and the state NAACP.
Duval County Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti as well as some Duval County School Board members have also voiced concerns over the system’s lack of accountability. Students in private schools are held to a different set of standards than traditional public schools. And opponents to the program have argued it diverts money from the public school system.
The school vouchers amount to roughly $5,200 per student, and eligibility has expanded this year to families with incomes of more than $62,000 a year.
The controversy over the program came into focus again Tuesday when school board member Jason Fischer introduced his own resolution challenging the lawsuit.
The resolution states the Duval County School Board opposes the suit against the voucher program and calls for its withdrawal.
“These children are getting a really good education,” Fischer said, referring to students in the voucher program. “The threat is if the lawsuit is successful, it will be ripped away from them.”
Fischer attempted to bring the resolution before the board for an emergency vote earlier this month, but that move was rejected.
At Tuesday’s workshop, the proposal also appeared to receive little support.
“I’ve heard nothing in terms of why we as a district should support your resolution,” said School Board Member Paula Wright. “I think it’s important that we realize that when we ran to be part of this table, we ran under the umbrella of public schools.”
But Fischer said he’s confident he’ll receive more support from board members when the resolution goes before the board for approval next month.
You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.