A Florida appeals court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a teachers union lawsuit aimed at invalidating the state's corporate tax credit school voucher program.

  • Teachers union says state's voucher program hurts public school funding
  • Appeals court heard oral arguments Tuesday
  • Decision could come in the next few weeks

A mainstay of former Gov. Jeb Bush's education reforms, the program provides vouchers totaling $5,700 per year to almost 80,000 low-income students, many of whom live in neighborhoods served by underperforming public schools.

Although the program's funding doesn't come directly from state coffers, the Florida Education Association in its suit argues the tax credits represent dollars that would have otherwise flowed to public schools, making the program unconstitutional.

"Our children are being cheated out of a high-quality education by policymakers and their education reforms that are designed to meet the needs of adults rather than students," FEA President Joanne McCall told a union rally earlier this year.

Highlighting the cross-cutting political and economic contours of the issue, the lawsuit has driven a wedge between the state's African-American leaders.

The Florida chapter of the NAACP is supporting the effort to dismantle the voucher program but, hours before Tuesday's session at the First District Court of Appeal, a coalition of African-American clergy gathered to denounce the lawsuit.

"I cannot sit silently by and allow anybody to kick out 80,000 black boys and girls and brown boys and girls," said Rev. R.B. Holmes of Tallahassee's Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. "It would be a disgrace to the vision and dream of Sojurner Truth and Harriet Tubman."

The three-judge panel that heard Tuesday's arguments is expected to render a decision in the case in the coming weeks.