Teachers Union Sues to End Scholarships for Special Needs Kids

 

Julie Kleffel is a Florida mom who only wants what’s best for her daughter. Like most seven-year-olds, Faith has learned to read, write and do basic math. She’s also on a swim team and enjoys long-distance running. These accomplishments are all the more impressive since Faith was born with Down syndrome.

After a local preschool didn’t offer the special attention Faith required, her mom decided to homeschool. Her education is now specialized to ensure she gets the one-on-one teaching and speech therapy required.

Needless to say, this is extra effort is expensive for Julie Kleffel, a widow and the sole provider for Faith. So she was thrilled when Florida passed an innovative Personal Learning Scholarship Account program. This allows moms like Julie to steer existing educational funds to the right mix of programs deemed best for their child.

Children dealing with autism, cerebral palsy, and other intellectual disabilities were happy to finally get the help they needed this fall. But those hopes were dashed by Florida’s largest teachers union.

The Florida Education Association filed a lawsuit to invalidate the groundbreaking program before it even got rolling. The union claimed that the legislation violated the state constitution’s “single subject” rule, which requires that every bill contain only one subject.

The bill, titled SB 850, had a single subject: education. And the FEA had supported numerous similarly structured bills in the past, but they feel oddly threatened by special needs kids getting the individualized attention they deserve.

FEA’s attorney, Ron Meyer, called the personalized learning accounts “a collateral casualty.” Insiders believe the union’s primary target is SB 850’s expansion of a tax-credit scholarship widely popular with Floridians. After all, union bosses have little compelling interest in helping struggling parents or needy students. Their job is to protect their own bank accounts.

In addition to lawfare, the FEA is attempting to punish education reformers in the statehouse and at the ballot box.

Few organizations work the Legislature with more sophistication and heavier artillery than the FEA. It has spent more than $20 million in the state political arena in the past dozen years, and a House Democrat said FEA threatened her with a primary opponent if she voted for the scholarship bill this year. That House member, Daphne Campbell, representing a mostly Haitian-American district in North Miami, indeed voted for the scholarship. And she indeed has a primary opponent – funded by the union.

The FEA is hardly alone in this modus operandi, and big campaign money is certainly being spent by all sides in the education arena. The point is simply that the major protagonists play to win, and you don’t have to look back too far to see that FEA is not quite so devoted to “civil society” when it’s on the winning end.

The State of Florida is fighting back against the desperate lawsuit, getting help from Goldwater Institute attorney Clint Bolick who successfully defended a similar Arizona program. Better yet, six families are attempting to join Bolick as defendants in the lawsuit, including Julie Kleffel.

For the sake of Florida education, let’s hope Faith and her mom prevails.

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  1. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore
    @Eeyore

    Here is Bolick’s 2003 Book, Voucher Wars, about the organization he co-founded, the Institute for Justice’s successful fight all the way to the Supreme Court over school voucher programs, before his going to the Goldwater Institute. It’s a passionate, engaging read.

    • #1
  2. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    Faiths better off being homeschooled anyway. Government money isn’t worth it.

    • #2
  3. Eugene Kriegsmann Member
    Eugene Kriegsmann
    @EugeneKriegsmann

    There are federal laws on the books which require that the school districts provide appropriate educational goals for every  special needs student. This is generally accomplished through the mechanism of a Individual Educational Program committee in which the parent or parents are a required member. The parent can demand services be provided for her child, and to have those services listed in the IEP. They then become a requirement on the district to fulfill. I taught Special Education classes for more than 40 years, participated in the development of hundreds of IEPs. At a time when computers were rarer than today, in the 1980s, I wrote into an IEP that a student required the use of a computer to complete written assignments. The district was required to provide that computer. Needless to say, the district wasn’t happy with me, but it got the job done. I have no problem with the Florida law, but I do feel that it should be unnecessary if the districts are held to the standards of federal law.

    • #3
  4. Eugene Kriegsmann Member
    Eugene Kriegsmann
    @EugeneKriegsmann

    If a district does not have qualified professional needed to provide a specific service they are required by federal law to either hire someone so qualified or contract out for the service. An extreme example of this occurred in Seattle, again in the 1980s. They had student who needed to be transported to an outside agency on a daily basis. Initially, they hired taxi cabs to drive him. He was, however, quite violent and cab companies would not transport him. The district was forced, ultimately, to purchase a used police car and provide a driver for it.
    Any district that says that they cannot provide a service needed by a special needs child is simply lying. There is no latitude allowed in the law. The child has an identified need, the district must provide whatever is necessary to meet that need. If anything, these laws have become more stringent over the years since this example occurred.

    • #4
  5. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    Eeyore:

    Here is Bolick’s 2003 Book, Voucher Wars, about the organization he co-founded, the Institute for Justice’s successful fight all the way to the Supreme Court over school voucher programs, before his going to the Goldwater Institute. It’s a passionate, engaging read.

    I had the pleasure to work with Clint Bolick when I was at the Goldwater Institute. Great litigator and a great guy. He does a lot of work with Hoover Institution as well.

    • #5
  6. Petty Boozswha Inactive
    Petty Boozswha
    @PettyBoozswha

    If and when the Republican party retakes the reins in Washington I hope they make a national right to work law the first reform on the table.  The labor union model has no place in the public sector and they – public sector unions – ought to be abolished; Franklin Roosevelt, Sidney Hillman and every AFL-CIO  leader from Samuel Grompers through George Meany thought so.

    • #6
  7. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Glad to see this, Jon!  Keep us in the loop…

    • #7
  8. user_48342 Member
    user_48342
    @JosephEagar

    The FEA threatened a black lawmaker for voting for scholarships?  This is why the “demographic advantage” argument is such bogus—after a certain point, majority coalitions become unstable.  I think the Democrats have reached that point.

    • #8
  9. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    Nick Stuart:

    Faiths better off being homeschooled anyway. Government money isn’t worth it.

     What is at issue here is the cost to Faith’s mom.    As a widow and a single parent, it is money that she can dedicate to her daughter’s educational expenses which might otherwise go limping by.  

    Assigning all the possible education moneys to parents to be used on behalf of their children would be the most reasonable way to go.  Home school.  Parochial/religious, private or public including charter.  Let the parent/s designate the school and let the money flow accordingly.

    I did note the union challenges to legislators and the use of union funds to fund challenges to those legislators who opposed them.  Nothing new there, and any craven legislator will dash for the cash.   If union members were permitted to determine how those dues should be spent, perhaps we’d see a slightly different result?

    • #9
  10. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    Donald Todd:

    Nick Stuart:

    Faiths better off being homeschooled anyway. Government money isn’t worth it.

    What is at issue here is the cost to Faith’s mom. As a widow and a single parent, it is money that she can dedicate to her daughter’s educational expenses which might otherwise go limping by.

    Assigning all the possible education moneys to parents to be used on behalf of their children would be the most reasonable way to go. Home school. Parochial/religious, private or public including charter. Let the parent/s designate the school and let the money flow accordingly.

    I did note the union challenges to legislators and the use of union funds to fund challenges to those legislators who opposed them. Nothing new there, and any craven legislator will dash for the cash…

     Agree. Problem is reform is in the far distant future, Faith & her mom’s need is today. Hopefully Julie Kleffel has church, community, family to help because the government/education establishment won’t. And Faith is still better off being homeschooled than thrown into the special needs snakepit [made so by the bureaucracy, not the special needs students]

    • #10
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