Douglas County school voucher program has new life after U.S. Supreme Court ruling

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DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. -- A controversial school voucher program in Douglas County that was ruled unconstitutional will be reconsidered after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday.

In 2011, the Douglas County School District approved a voucher program that would have provided publicly funded scholarships to 500 students who want to go to private schools, including religious ones.

“My view is we’re here to educate kids, we’re here to provide them the best education possible,” Douglas County School Board president Meghann Silverthorn said.

Silverthorn is the only board member left from the board that originally voted for the program.

“It’s not up to me to tell parents what the best education possible is for their kids,” Silverthorn said. "It’s up to me to provide a wide array of choices and let the parents decide.”

The legal fight over the voucher program has been ongoing since 2011 when a Denver District Court judge blocked the program from starting.

In 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the decision, saying it violated the state’s constitution. The district, three Douglas County families and Colorado’s attorney general appealed to the high court.

And Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled the state must reconsider the ruling.

“What you’ve done is essentially say our program can’t go forward because of the exercise of faith, so now the Supreme Court has said that is not permissible,” Silverthorn said. “So now can we talk about how to make the program move forward?”

Taxpayers for Public Education, which has fought against the program since 2011, responded to the ruling.

"It's standard practice for the Supreme Court to send back cases to the lower courts to give them the first opportunity to determine what effect, if any, recent rulings may have on existing litigation," it said in a statement.

"The Supreme Court in Trinity Lutheran expressly noted that its opinion does not address religious uses of government funding.  We believe that the Colorado courts will reach the same result as before and prohibit the Douglas County voucher program."

Meanwhile, the Douglas County school board says it won’t need a revote to approve. But changes could be coming.

“There’s elections every two years, so any board at any time can revisit a policy and see if they still think it should go forward,” Silverthorn said.

It is unclear when the Colorado Supreme Court will take on the case. There will then be three options for the court: To revise its earlier opinion, request new arguments from both sides or ask a lower court to reconsider.

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