Colorado Supreme Court squashes Douglas County school voucher program

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DENVER -- The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Douglas County School District’s voucher program is in violation of the state’s Constitution.

The case was brought against the district by Taxpayers for Public Education and several other parties.

The district implemented the Choice Scholarship Pilot program four years ago, using $4,575 in taxpayer scholarships to up to 500 qualifying students to help pay for tuition at private schools.

Douglas County School leaders expressed disappointment after the decision, but they said they're far from giving up.

“We have always believed that the ultimate legality of our choice scholarship program would be decided by the federal courts under the United States Constitution,” Douglas County School Board President Kevin Larsen sad. “This could very well be simply a case of delayed gratification.”

In the meantime, the district revealed plans to move forward with a modified voucher program.

“And if there are ways of proceeding immediately, that are compliant, we will do that,” DCSD Board Director Craig Richardson said. “Even as we consider bringing the United States Supreme Court into the picture."

"I don't think the Supreme Court is interested in hearing the arguments that the Douglas County school board is going to advance," said Mark Silverstein with the ACLU of Colorado.

Silverstein, who helped argue against the vouchers, said he’s confident the U.S. Supreme Court stands behind the states’ rights to enforce their constitutions.

If the case does move forward, Silverstein said the ACLU and others will be ready to challenge it again. They will also challenge any modified voucher program that includes private schools.

"State taxpayer dollars cannot be used to fund that choice," attorney Matt Douglas said.

“This isn't about parental choice,” said Sandra Barnard with Taxpayers for Public Education. “The school gets to choose the kids they will educate with tax dollars."

RELATED: Colorado Supreme Court Ruling

Denver District Court found in 2011 the program violated the Public School Finance Act of 1994 and other provisions of the state Constitution, but it was overturned by the Colorado Court of Appeals in 2013, saying the petitioners lacked standing to sue under the act and that the voucher program did not violate the state Constitution.

The state Supreme Court ruled the petitioners did lack the standing to challenge the CSP, but it reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, saying it violates Article IX, Section 7 of the state Constitution.

The section reads:

"Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation, or pay from any public fund or moneys whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian society, or for any sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever; nor shall any grant or donation of land, money or other personal property, ever be made by the state, or any such public corporation to any church, or for any sectarian purpose."

The case was sent back to the Court of Appeals with instructions to return the case to the trial court so it can reinstate its order permanently enjoining the CSP.

"This is a great victory for public school children in Colorado," Barnard said. "The DCSD voucher program took taxpayer funds, intended for public education, and used that money to pay for private school education for a few select students. The decision means that money set aside for public education in Colorado can only be used the way it was intended to be used -- for the betterment of education in Colorado public schools."