The Florida Education Association is challenging the state’s most recent expansion of its K-12 tuition assistance program, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.

The FEA — among others — filed a lawsuit last week alleging that the state’s program, which provides income-eligible students scholarships for private school tuition, is an unconstitutional attempt to divert funds from Florida’s public schools.

The program is funded through corporate donations, but donors are provided tax credits. These tax credits end up costing the state money in lost revenue, opponents argue.

"I think the major concern we have is that there are students throughout the state of Florida that need to have better attention paid to them," said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the FEA.

In 2006, the state Supreme Court deemed a similar program unconstitutional. The Florida Opportunity Scholars Program, however, was directly appropriated money by the state.

Proponents of the current program’s expansion hope that changes in how it is funded will allow it to be viewed as constitutional.

Jason Nance, an associate professor in the Levin College of Law, said that the state’s challenge will be to get around the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Holmes. 

“One of the challenges that the State will have to overcome is whether the program is diverting its public education dollars to a system other than a system of free public schools as the Florida Constitution requires,” Nance said.

[A version of this story ran on page 3 on 9/4/2014 under the headline "FEA sues over private school tuition tax credits"]