Update: This article has been updated with comments from Dougco school board member Craig Richardson and from ACLU-Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein.
Colorado’s highest court has agreed to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Dougco Public Schools voucher program.
Among the points of the case the state Supreme Court will consider is whether plaintiffs, led by an organization called Taxpayers for Public Education, have have the legal right to challenge the program, which never went into effect because of litigation, and whether the program violates the Public Schools Finance Act.
Dougco board member Craig Richardson said the district is confident in its case.
“The District welcomes the opportunity for the state’s highest court to review a case that presents such important issues for our state and our country,” Richardson said in a media release. “DCSD is committed to expanding choice for parents and one of the ways is our innovative Choice Scholarship Program. We believe the Court of Appeals will be affirmed and that the parents and children of our District will, someday soon, be afforded more educational choice.”
The Colorado branch of the American Civil Liberties Union was equally optimistic.
“The ACLU of Colorado is encouraged by the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to hear the Douglas County school voucher case, and we look forward to arguing before the court that it must strike down the school district’s misguided funding scheme, which compels taxpayers to subsidize religious education in clear violation of the state constitution,” said Legal Director Mark Silverstein in a media release. “We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will end this misguided and unconstitutional diversion of taxpayer dollars before it is adopted by other districts around the state.”
The voucher program, which was unanimously passed by the Dougco school board in 2011, would have allowed up to 500 Douglas County students to use 75 percent of the district’s per-pupil funding – or $4,575 at the time – to attend a participating private school approved by the district.
Students would have been able to use those funds to attend private religious schools.
Schools that were interested in participating in the program had to have met certain criteria.
Thirty-four private schools applied to participate in the voucher program, known as the Choice Scholarship Program. Dougco had approved 23 of those schools.
Of the 23 schools, 14 were located outside Douglas County, and 16 teach religious doctrine.
The voucher program was modeled after other programs across the nation that have prevailed in court. It gave students the right to “receive a waiver from any required religious services at the [participating private school],” according to court documents.