The Legislature’s organization session Tuesday was mostly a friendly affair, with families looking on as lawmakers were sworn-in and talk of tackling a state budget and policy matters still seemed somewhere on the horizon.
But new House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, wasted little time in declaring the state’s teachers union “evil.”
“The teachers union is fixated on halting innovation and competition,” said Corcoran, who condemned the union for its lawsuit looking to overturn the state’s tax-credit scholarship program launched under former Gov. Jeb Bush.
“This flies in the face of research. It defies common sense. It is downright evil,” Corcoran told the House in his opening remarks as speaker.
Under the tax credit scholarship program, companies get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit off state income, insurance premium, alcoholic beverage, excise and other taxes for their contributions to private school scholarships.
The voucher program started modestly in 2001 under Bush — financed by tax credits of $50 million in its first year. But the Republican-led Legislature has allowed the amount of available dollars to swell through the years to the current $559.1 million level.
The Florida Education Association and a handful of allies — the Florida PTA and School Boards Association have withdrawn from the lawsuit– argue the tax credits hurt public schools by diverting dollars to private schools.
While lower courts have ruled the FEA doesn’t have legal standing to challenge, the union is now asking the Florida Supreme Court to take up the case.
Corcoran, a huge fan of charter schools and the tax-credit scholarship program, has added his voice to a chorus of organizations which benefit from these dollars to drop the lawsuit.
House Democratic leaders swung back, defending the politically allied FEA. But Corcoran’s gauntlet throwdown seems to set a tone for when lawmakers return for the first round of committee hearings next month.
“Instead of demonizing our teachers, we should be celebrating the incredible work they do and focusing how can we best provide a quality public education, as the Florida Constitution requires, to every child,” House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa and others said in a written response to Corcoran.