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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Pointing to discussions with Senate President Andy Gardiner, the state’s largest teachers union said Thursday it will stop challenging a 2014 law that included expansion of a voucher-like program that helps send children to private schools.

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The Florida Education Association said it will not appeal a ruling last week by Leon County Chief Circuit Judge Charles Francis, who dismissed the challenge to the law. Francis said the named plaintiffs in the case, a Lee County teacher and two parents, did not have the legal standing to sue.

The union has backed two lawsuits that fight the voucher-like program, which is formally known as the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. While announcing it would not appeal Francis’ ruling, the union indicated it would continue the other lawsuit, which challenges the constitutionality of the program.

In a prepared statement, the union said it decided against appealing after a series of meetings with Gardiner, R-Orlando.

“We have opened a dialogue with the Senate president on a broad range of issues, including testing, special needs students and other public education concerns of paramount importance to the FEA,” union Vice President Joanne McCall said. “We look forward to working together for the benefit of our children.”

The controversial program provides tax credits to companies that donate money to nonprofit organizations, which then help pay for children to go to private schools. Backers of the program say it provides educational choices to low-income children, but the union and other opponents say it takes away tax dollars that otherwise could go to public schools.

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The 2014 law tied together an expansion of eligibility for the program with several other education measures. The union argued that lumping together the variety of issues in one bill was unconstitutional.

Gardiner has been critical of the legal challenge, at least in part because it threatened another part of the law that created what are known as “personal learning scholarship accounts.” Those accounts are designed to help parents of children with disabilities pay for educational services.

The Senate president, who has a son with Down syndrome, has made a priority of issues involving children with disabilities.

“What this program (the personal learning scholarship accounts) will do is assist children with disabilities and their families, who daily face significant life challenges, by enhancing their chances for success, not just in the academic world, but in the real world,” Gardiner said in July in a statement criticizing the union-backed lawsuit.

This report is by Jim Saunders with The News Service of Florida.


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