Within the last several years, new educational choice programs have been created by various state legislatures all over America. Yet and still, charter schools continue to grow and have over a million kids on waiting lists. At a time when far too many of our traditional public schools are not working well for kids, parents are demanding better options and lawmakers are aggressively creating them.
As these programs are being developed, however, a calculated, dangerous and destructive practice has emerged, and it is doing damage to our most vulnerable group of kids. Nearly each and every time a school choice bill passes – bills designed to give thousands of low-income kids access to better schools – various teachers unions and school boards immediately file lawsuits to stop these programs from being implemented. Fortunately, nearly each and every time these lawsuits are filed, they end up being losers. But they still keep coming.
Most recently, the North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. For more information on this program, click here: https://www.ij.org/north-carolina-school-choice-release-07-23-2015). Passed in 2013, the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program offers scholarships for low-income children to attend the private school of their parents’ choice. Nearly 1,200 students participated in the program during the 2014-2015 school year, and more than 5,000 applications are pending. The union had sued to stop the program, but the court supported the program.
The same thing happened when school choice legislation was challenged in states like Alabama, Indiana and New Hampshire. Some states have had to beat back several challenges from the status quo over school choice legislation. School choice bills were successfully defended in Wisconsin (twice), Ohio (twice), Illinois (twice) and Arizona (four times!). All in all, there have been at least 26 challenges to school choice programs, of which four are currently pending. For detailed information on some of these cases, click here: https://www.ij.org/cases/schoolchoice.
While the vast majority of the courts rule in favor of these programs, teachers unions and assorted school boards continue to clog up state courts with lawsuits filed to stop implementation of school choice programs designed to get low-income kids into quality private schools. As evidence of the diabolical nature of these lawsuits, the Oklahoma courts threw out a lawsuit filed by the Oklahoma School Boards Association that was suing parents for leaving their public schools to use the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program, which allowed them to place their special needs children in schools that better fit their needs. That’s right, the school board sued parents who were seeking better schools for their special needs kids. It is the only time in which school choice opponents sued the families rather than the state.
Several years ago, on the eve of the hearing involving the union challenge of the Louisiana statewide voucher program, then 12-year-old Tyrell was the only student standing outside the Louisiana courthouse with parents rallying in support of the Louisiana Scholarship Program.
Tyrell had received an opportunity scholarship to attend a private school in Louisiana after spending many years attending a failing public school. When Tyrell found out about the lawsuit that threatened to kill the program that he benefitted so greatly from, he begged his mother to let him skip school to go to the courthouse.
“I had to come,” he said. “When I heard I might lose my scholarship, I got scared at the thought that I might have to go back to my old school, which would be horrible. I’ve been worrying about this so much, I can’t even sleep at night.”
He wanted to tell the judge how much that scholarship meant to him and his family and even if he could not speak, hoped the judge might be able to catch a glimpse of him. When the Louisiana court ultimately issued it’s ruling, it upheld the constitutionality of the program, though it invalidated the program’s funding mechanism set up by the state. Tyrell is still benefitting greatly from this scholarship.
But the most egregious example of unions using lawsuits to hurt kids is taking place in Florida. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program is the largest school choice program in the nation. Supported by both Republicans and Democrats alike, including the vast majority of the Black and Latino Caucuses, the program offers scholarships to nearly 80,000 economically disadvantaged students to attend a private school of their choice. The program is highly popular and has been an unquestioned success. Last year, the Florida Education Association, Florida School Board Association and others filed a lawsuit to end the program, 13 years after the entrenched program was started. Really?? The outcry against the union lawsuit in Florida has been fierce. Several members of the Black church including Rev. H. K. Mathews, a legendary civil rights leader and former colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, have written strong editorials in support of the program. And former scholarship recipient and recent college graduate, Denisha Merriweather, has become the chief spokesperson for those fighting the lawsuit. Denisha has even debated union officials on Florida television over the merits of the lawsuit, which is still pending in Florida courts. Go here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fj-dfgbssU8) to view video footage of Denisha imploring the teachers union to drop the lawsuit.
Sadly, the union leadership filing these lawsuits are not concerned about Denisha, Tyrell or the thousands like them who benefit from these newly enacted school choice programs. Their focus is on power, control and forcing parents to send their kids to whatever school the system decides they should go to, even if it isn’t the right fit for the child. And that is just plain wrong.
At some point, our nation’s deeds must match its’ rhetoric. If we are to truly put our kids first, we must speak out against the often frivolous and political litigation designed to harm the very kids we say we cherish. Using lawsuits to protect adult interests at our kids’ expense will always have the same result: they will ultimately hurt our kids. •