MLK III in Tallahassee in Support of Florida Tax Credit Scholarship

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By: Natalie Rubino
January 19, 2016

Just a day after the nation honors his father, Martin Luther King III stops in Tallahassee.

Thousands of students and parents from across the state are joining him.

The gathering is called "Rally in Tally."

Martin Luther King III led the march from the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center to the Capital.

"There's nothing more important than ensuring that our children have the best education," the eldest son of MLK Jr. told Eyewitness News.

The group is calling on the Florida Education Association to drop its lawsuit against the state.

FEA says Florida's Tax Credit Scholarship is hurting public school funding. But advocates say it's helping students like Valentin Mendez succeed.

"The bullying it didn't stop. It never stopped until I moved to private school. It was really hard. I would cry every day. I would tell my mom 'I don't want to be here anymore,'" Mendez said.

Florida's Tax Credit Scholarship provides private school funding to low income students who struggle in public schools.

Raquel Sanchez is from Tallahassee.
She used the tax credits to send her children to private school.
Her oldest son now has big dreams.

"He wants to go to college. He didn't have that hope when he was going to Rickards cause he didn't know if he was going to graduate," Sanchez said.

MLK III says no matter their finances, all families deserve options.

"My dad, I don't know if I can aptly speak to what he'd say today. But what I do know is that he always stood up for justice," he said.

A Florida judge ruled in 2014 that FEA had no standing on its claims regarding the program. It's currently appealing that decision.

A full statement from FEA can be found below.

By: Natalie Rubino
January 19, 2016 6pm

Florida Education Association Response:

TALLAHASSEE – Backers of Florida’s voucher schemes are back in Tallahassee today for their annual display designed to increase their access to taxpayer dollars to support private schools that are largely unregulated, 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.

“For more than a year, voucher groups have been demanding FEA drop a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the tax-credit vouchers. What are they so afraid of going to the courts to ensure this voucher scheme is legal?” asked FEA President Joanne McCall. “Let’s let the courts decide this once and for all. We’re not dropping our legal challenge.”

In recent years, legislators have shifted hundreds of millions of dollars into programs, with little to no accountability, that serve students in private schools and those operated by for-profit educational management companies while at the same time cutting funding for public schools and ratcheting up standards and accountability measures. These changes in the state’s education system move Florida further and further away from the Florida’s constitutionally required system of free public schools.

The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program provides private school vouchers by diverting corporate tax revenue from the state’s general revenue fund to a scholarship-funding organization. The Legislature initially capped the program at $50 million in tax credits per state fiscal year, but continue to expand the cap so it will be $873 million in 2018-19.

“We have filled this suit -- and will pursue this suit -- on behalf of the 2.7 million students in Florida's public schools and Florida’s taxpayers,” McCall said. “Both deserve to know if this program is getting hundreds of million dollars per year in violation of our state constitution.”

In the Bush v. Holmes case in 2006, the Florida courts struck down the Opportunity Scholarship Program, a similar program that provided publicly funded vouchers to pay private-school tuition. The courts used two different reasons for declaring the Opportunity Scholarship vouchers unconstitutional both of which are applicable in the instance of the tax credit vouchers.

The First District Court of Appeal held that the vouchers violated the “no aid” clause of Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution, which prohibits taking revenue “from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”

The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the program was “in direct conflict with the mandate in Article IX, Section 1(a) that it is the state’s ‘paramount duty’ to make adequate provision for education and that the manner in which this mandate must be carried out is ‘by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.’ ”

“There’s no evidence that voucher schools perform any better than public schools,” McCall said. “Florida doesn’t even ask them to provide much in the way of accountability. A recent study in Louisiana showed children in voucher schools are doing poorer in every subject. It is disturbing to educators that students were taken out of school, bused to Tallahassee and asked to stand in the cold as props so that voucher proponents can ask for more public dollars without accountability.”

McCall added that vouchers are not ensuring fair and equal access to all students and that vouchers are a step backwards.

“Florida’s students and taxpayers would be better served by investing our scarce resources to improve our lowest performing schools and making them our priority schools so that we can help all of our students,” McCall said. “A high-quality education shouldn’t be determined by a student’s ZIP code. After all, our state constitution says it is the Legislature’s paramount duty to fund a uniform, high quality public education system.”

By: WCTV Eyewitness News
January 19, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The son of Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the keynote speakers at a rally in Tallahassee on Tuesday.

The event began with a march from the Civic Center to the Capitol.

Thousands of parents and students from across the state of Florida were in attendance and Martin Luther King III was at the Capitol speaking in support of Florida's Tax Credit Scholarship program.

The program offers tax credits to businesses that provide private school scholarships and gives low-income families the ability to send their children to private schools.

Around 78,000 children statewide are enrolled in the program, which was created by the state legislature in 2001 and gives the corporations that offer scholarships a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for their contribution.

The Florida Education Association has taken the program to court, challenging whether or not the scholarships are constitutional.

Speakers and activists gathered to urge the Florida teachers' union to drop the lawsuit against the scholarship. They say doing away with the scholarship would harm the state's minority and low-income students.

King III joined several others at the rally including former Miami Dade NAACP president Bishop Victor Curry , former contestant on The Voice and scholarship parent Donna Allen, and Reverend R.B. Holmes, Pastor of the Bethel Ministry Baptist Church in Tallahassee.

King III told WCTV that his father valued education and would want these children to have an equal opportunity to a quality education.

The event came just a day after the nation honored the life and legacy of his father.

FEA President Joanne McCall said in a statement that her group has no plans to drop its lawsuit.

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