Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Colorado Court OKs Vouchers to Christian Schools

By overturning the Denver District Court ruling, the Colorado Court of Appeals has approved the Douglas County School District's "Choice Scholarship Program" vouchers that allows parents to use money provided through the public school district to send their children to private, often Christian, schools.

-- From "Colorado Court of Appeals overturns block of school vouchers in state's wealthiest county" by The Associated Press 2/28/13

[Previously,] Denver District Judge Michael Martinez had sided with a group of parents and the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado. They argued the voucher program in Douglas County violated the separation of church and state because it gives scholarship checks that parents can use at religious schools.

The judge noted that some religious schools authorized for Douglas vouchers require students to attend religious services. Martinez said the voucher program violates both financial and religious provisions in the Colorado constitution.

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From "Court overturns block of Douglas County Schools school voucher program" posted at KMGH-TV7 (Denver) 2/28/13

The appeals court said Thursday the Douglas County Schools Choice Scholarship Program does not violate the state Constitution.

“This is incredibly positive news and a huge victory for the students and parents of Douglas County,” said DSCD Board of Education President John Carson.  “We know that each student learns differently, and our goal is to provide every parent with the opportunity to choose the best possible educational environment for their child.”

The program offered up to 500 students $4,575 in state funds for tuition at mostly religious, private schools.

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From "Colorado appeals court: Douglas County school voucher system legal" by Karen Augé, The Denver Post 3/1/13

Michael Bindas, attorney for the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice, which worked on behalf of Douglas County schools, said the ruling is one more in a string that have upheld voucher programs.

"This opinion has national significance because the court recognized a program that is neutral toward religion and operates on private parental choice is constitutional," Bindas said.

Of the 23 schools Douglas County had accepted into its voucher program, 16 were religious in nature.

Several of the schools accepted into the voucher program required students to participate in religious services or classes. The district provides an "opt-out" for students, but opponents argued such a provision would be impractical.

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From "ACLU Plans To Appeal School Voucher Ruling" posted at Law Week Colorado 2/28/13

Judge Jerry Jones’ majority opinion upholding the constitutionality of the voucher program drew a dissent from Judge Steve Bernard, who wrote: “In my view, [the Colorado Constitution] prohibits public school districts from channeling public money to private religious schools. I think that the Choice Scholarship Program is a pipeline that violates this direct and clear constitutional command.”

Jones also found that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue.

The plaintiffs were represented by the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the ACLU of Colorado and pro bono attorneys from a handful of firms.

Defendants included the Douglas County School District and the Colorado Board of Education, which were represented by Jim Lyons and Eric Hall of Rothgerber Johnson & Lyons, and the state, which was represented by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.

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Also read
School Vouchers Advance in Indiana & D.C.