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Douglas County voucher program challenge headed to Colorado Supreme Court

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Photos and more below.
The Colorado Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a lower-court decision okaying Douglas County's controversial school voucher plan, which allows parents to use taxpayer dollars to enroll their kids at religious schools.

That's great news for the ACLU of Colorado, which has been battling the Dougco vouchers in court for three years. And even though the principles on which the dispute pivots seem simple, legal director Mark Silverstein acknowledges that the case is plenty complex.

We've included LaRue v. Colorado Board of Education, the ACLU's 2011 lawsuit, at the bottom of this post. But here's an excerpt that summarizes the argument against the voucher plan.

The Program, enacted by the Douglas County Board of Education on March 15, 2011, takes public funds provided by the State of Colorado -- which are required by law to be spent on public schools -- and uses them to pay for tuition at private schools. The vast majority of these private schools are religious, are controlled by churches or other religious institutions, and discriminate in both employment and admissions on the basis of religion. Many of them require students to receive religious instruction and attend religious worship services...

In diverting millions of dollars in public funds intended solely for public education to instead finance overtly religious and private education, the Douglas County School District also cedes control over this education to the private-school aid recipients, resulting in a taxpayer-funded education that deviates substantially from the legal standards and requirements governing the public education provided by the District itself. The private schools participating in the Program are not controlled or directed by any local board of education or elected directors, and the education they provide differs in material respects from the District's -- including, among others, teacher certification, background, educational goals, curriculum, and approved textbooks.

The suit was filed in June 2011, and that August, a Denver District Court judge granted the ACLU's request for a preliminary injunction, thereby putting the voucher program on hold. At the time, Silverstein argued that an appeal of this ruling would be a waste of taxpayer dollars, but the plaintiffs didn't agree -- and last year, the Colorado Court of Appeals found in favor of Douglas County by a 2-1 margin.

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The Douglas County School Board in action, as seen in the 2013 documentary "The Reformers."
In explaining the rationale for this decision, Silverstein admits that "it's a bit complicated. For many years, it was believe that the First Amendment to the federal constitution would forbid voucher programs like this. But in the early 2000s, the U.S. Supreme Court said a voucher program that gives the money to the parents doesn't violate the federal constitution. So there are communities in some other states where voucher programs are operative, and they allow parents to take a public taxpayer-paid subsidy and use that to send their kids to private schools, including private religious schools.

"But Colorado is among a number of states that have provisions in its constitution that are much more specific," he goes on. "And since the Supreme Court's rulings in the early 2000s, there have been several cases around the country where vouchers have been challenged under state constitutional law" -- the Douglas County case among them.

Now, the ACLU, which quickly challenged the appeals court ruling, will have a chance to make its arguments before the Colorado Supreme Court.

What's next? Silverstein notes that "there will be a briefing schedule. We'll file a brief, the defendants and interveners will file a response brief, and we'll have an opportunity to reply. That will be unfolding over the next several months. Then, the court will set a date to hear oral arguments, and at some point after that, we'd expect the court to issue its ruling."

The ACLU's attorneys are in the midst of determining how best to frame their appeal. But the approach will have at its foundation what Silverstein describes as the organization's "belief that parents have the right to send their kids to private schools, and private religious schools -- but we don't believe they should be able to use public taxpayer money to do that" under the Colorado constitution.

Here's the original 2011 lawsuit against the Douglas County voucher program.

LaRue v. Colorado Board of Education

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Education archive circa August 2011: "School voucher program stopped: Dougco appeal would waste taxpayer money, ACLU says."

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59 comments
Alexis Vasquez Aragonez
Alexis Vasquez Aragonez

I agree completely! And my daughter is autistic and my son adhd the private school I had them worked very good with them the public school they are in now just threw them in a "special ed" class where they haven't learned a thing.

Alexis Vasquez Aragonez
Alexis Vasquez Aragonez

Yes!!!!!!! Let the parents choose where they want to enroll their children! The Catholic Headstart by me is Cheaper then the public school and has better quaility education. I cannot get a scholorship to help cover my child attending there yet I can get a full scholarship at the public headstart which cost more money and offers a noticeably less quality education!

Sherry Hon
Sherry Hon

No--the privatization of education is part of the reform agenda--so if you are a middle class status and live in a middle class community your child will receive a great education--those in poverty will get what is left over while public money funds those that already have no need for further funding. The money gets dispersed in a way to assure that poverty or low income communities will be robbed of funding they could have received. EVERY child deserves an education in this country--not just the communities that are well off and can pay for a good education.

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

For all of you naysaying morons (who no doubt went to government school and thus are too ignorant to know any better), it is not about religion.  It is about giving the kids a chance at an education.  The public schools have  failed to provide that opportunity.  

Dian Feral
Dian Feral

NO NO NO NO NO! You want those schools, pay for those schools.

Mary Maybee
Mary Maybee

Westword-I picked up your paper the other day and there were 20, yes 20 pages of Marijuana ads of various sorts!!! In addition to the girlie ads! I was quite surprised as you used to have some decent articles from an opposing view that I enjoyed. Also, can you do a more positive article on the University of Denver 's 150 years as opposed to your biased article on Denver Boone! Thanks

Myrna Lipton
Myrna Lipton

Public money for public schools....private schools..private money

Erin McConnell
Erin McConnell

I will say this: I grew up in ohio and attended public school. And while I liked it for the most part, had I grown up here, I would have taken every opportunity to attend Valor high school. I ultimately went to school for music production in college, but valor has a music production track on the high school level. Being able to attend that school would have fundamentally changed my life. And with my parents income, a voucher like this, would have likely been the only way my parents could have pulled it off. My parents are not and were not ever poor, but we were never doing well enough to put my sister and I in a school like Valor.

LindaLee Law
LindaLee Law

NOTE: The first $40,000,000 of marijuana tax money is going to the schools and the voters rejected a tax increase. Douglas county is like Columbine They thumb their Christian noses at the rest of us.

LindaLee Law
LindaLee Law

t have to hang with the riff raff or A school for every personality and parental need.

LindaLee Law
LindaLee Law

As a Catholic ,I am appalled that the Parochial schools are admitting anyone with a voucher but not requiring religious education! NO Funding for "I have to send my kid to a private school so he doesn

Amber Rae Schultes
Amber Rae Schultes

I KNOW it costs money to send every kid to school.... If parents want to send em somewhere else, they should still receive what every kid gets

Brad Aerts
Brad Aerts

But it promoted Obamakkkare & see through bags like nazi Germany

Pete Copeland
Pete Copeland

I just did a fundraiser event for a Jesuit high school. It's all impoverished students, 99% of them are Hispanic, and they have an 100% acceptance rate into college. The cool thing is that if your student qualifies to go there their tuition is covered 100%. At the event they invite rich donors to come out for a dinner and they did live auctions. They raised millions of dollars to build a new building and fund another year of students, and they do this apparently without tax dollars (although rich people don't just donate money they write it off on their taxes so maybe it is a tax burden I don't know). I guess what I am saying is BE CREATIVE. If your school is worth attending people will come out of the woodwork and give your privet school the funding it needs without going after the already stretched public funds.

Charlene McCune
Charlene McCune

except in the case of handicapped students where the school district is refusing to educate based on the special needs

Quentin Shehan
Quentin Shehan

Yes, keep the religious nuts away from my kids at public school.

Jacob Edward
Jacob Edward

I used to live in Milwaukee, where the school voucher program was created almost 20 years ago, and it hasn't done a thing to improve education in Milwaukee, that has some of the worst schools in America. All it does is pull more money out of the public schools and give it to privately owned religious and charter schools. The private and charter schools can be selective about the students they choose to admit and rarely, if ever, take students with developmental, emotional and behavioral problems, leaving them for the public schools to deal with.

Carla J. Turner
Carla J. Turner

A small fraction of a family's tax payment goes toward public school funding - - someone like me, who doesn't have children, chips in for the schooling of their children. So, it's not just a given family's tax money that they're spending on an unproven, non-research-based private school (religious or not), it's my money as well. I want my money to be spent wisely and on the public schools that I agreed to support as a citizen of Colorado and the US, not on a corporate or tax-exempt religious school. I also agree with Jefferson that there should be a high wall between church and state......my public monies should not be going toward religious institutions. All that being said, any family in Doug Co that can afford it has always been able to pull their kids out of proven public education and put them into the private school of their choice. That's the way it should work, not by funneling scant public school funding off into the corporate / religious institutions.

Rachel Sproles Case
Rachel Sproles Case

Absolutely not! If a parent wants to send their child to a private school, then that should be their responsibility.

Doug Hubka
Doug Hubka

Brad. That is not true. The league office just supplies services and is not taxable. The Individual teams are fully taxable. That is where the money for TV and Tickets goes and it is taxable income.

Doug Hubka
Doug Hubka

I think you pay taxes for public education, not private education. It would be justifiable if private schools faced the same rules and procedures of public schools, like accommodating special needs kids, but they don't. Because they are Private.

Doug Hubka
Doug Hubka

I am pretty sure it is already in the Colorado Constitution that taxes will not pay for private schools. It will be hard to overcome this with the court.

Laura Chrisler-Matheney
Laura Chrisler-Matheney

No! Absolutely not!!!!!!! And you idiots that say yes need to either a) move to a country that has no religious freedom so you can see what shoving religion down everyone's throat is like b) pay for your bad education that does not include a full curriculum of math, science and literature YOURSELVES!

Michael Salazar
Michael Salazar

Not sure how the voucher system works for education but if it's as simple as you getting a check then I don't give a damn where they send their kids as long as they get educated. If people that want to send their kids to private institutions get more money than people that don't then I would have a problem.

Julie Eaton
Julie Eaton

no not for private religious schools. i do feel that a home school child should recieve a something. a few $100 per child for supplies and field trips. if you don't have the money for private then you can home school if you choose. if we fund the private schools i fear it will hurt public schools.

Jackie Agan
Jackie Agan

No. Taxes are for public schools. Private schools remain an option, but public money should not fund private education.

Brad Aerts
Brad Aerts

NFL don't pay taxes why should I?

Benjamin Bradburn
Benjamin Bradburn

No. It takes money out of public schools and violates the separation of church and state.

Candie Bernard
Candie Bernard

Certainly not. Taxes go for public schools. If a parent wants private schooling (religious or otherwise) for their kids, they should foot the bill.

Douglas Evans
Douglas Evans

Rather have this than war and corporate welfare If your pissed about gov waste people fry the big fish 1st this sh*t is just a red herring, keeping us focused on fighting with each other while big fish eat all the food

Erin McConnell
Erin McConnell

Why is this even a question? When people receive a voucher, it is, in reality, a portion of the money they pay in taxes for education. It works not that much differently when send your kid to a different school using open enrollment. People get upset when it's for a religious school, but if you pay taxes, you should be able to benefit from that in anyway possible.

Lizzy Guilfoy
Lizzy Guilfoy

private schools are an option...absolutely not!!

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