FEA sues to invalidate law that expanded corporate vouchers on session’s last day

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A member of the Florida Education Association has filed suit against the governor, members of the Cabinet and the education commissioner over legislation passed on the final day of the legislative session that, among other unrelated matters, expanded the state’s corporate voucher program.

Tom Faasse, who teaches social studies at East Lee County High School in Lehigh Acres, is challenging the manner in which Senate Bill 850 became law in May. When SB 850 was filed in February, it was a five-page bill that expanded Florida’s collegiate high school program. During its travels through committees in the Florida House and Senate, additional provisions were added that were unrelated to collegiate high schools. Three weeks from the end of the legislative session, the bill had grown to 40 pages and included provisions dealing with public school improvement and accountability, amendments to the Career and Professional Education Act and items related to dropout prevention, school hazing and middle grades reform.

Two other bills also were making their way through the legislative process, one that created personal learning accounts for students with disabilities and the other expanding the corporate voucher program. These bills, House Bill 7167 and Senate Bill 1512, both failed on the next-to-last day of the legislative session. But on the last day of the session, both these failed provisions were added to SB 850 in a 141-page amendment that was adopted even though many of the provisions of the amendment had not been considered previously.

The Florida Constitution contains restrictions to the Legislature’s authority to create laws, stating that “every law shall embrace but one subject … and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title.” The legislation passed on the final day of session contains multiple subjects – including the expansion of vouchers – and these multiple subjects are not expressed on the bill’s title.

“Is this any way to pass laws?” Faasse said. “The people of Florida should expect that laws are clearly expressed and properly vetted and that laws that failed to pass shouldn’t be tacked onto unrelated legislation at the 11th hour.”

FEA Vice President Joanne McCall was also bothered by the last-minute maneuver.

“It’s an outrage that corporate voucher expansion was tacked onto an unrelated bill and slipped into law on the session’s final day,” McCall said. “These voucher schools have little regulation, don’t have to follow the state’s academic standards, don’t have to hire qualified teachers and don’t have to prove to the state that they are using public money wisely. There’s no link between vouch­ers and gains in student achievement. Yet the Legislature continues to expand voucher schools instead of providing proper funding for our neighborhood public schools.”

The lawsuit, which was filed today in circuit court in Leon County, seeks to have SB 850 declared unconstitutional.

The complaint is posted at here.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.