There’s good news for public education and religious freedom in Colorado: This week marks the end of a nearly 7-year court battle over a private school voucher program in one suburban Denver county.
Yesterday, Colorado’s Supreme Court agreed to dismiss a lawsuit Americans United and our allies filed in 2011 to challenge a private school voucher scheme enacted by the Douglas County School Board. The dismissal came at the joint request of both sides in the suit, Taxpayers for Public Education v. Douglas County School District, after the school board repealed the program.
Alex J. Luchenitser, AU’s associate legal director, hailed the court’s decision: “Public money should fund public schools, which educate the vast majority of children. We’re pleased that Douglas County taxpayers are no longer being compelled to fund religious education, and that the school district’s resources and attention can once again be focused on making the public schools the best that they can be.”
Credit also goes to the voters and newly elected school board in Douglas County. Tired of their school board wasting resources on an unconstitutional private school voucher program, the voters in November ousted the faction that had pushed for the voucher scheme. The new board majority, which overwhelmingly supports public education, immediately agreed to end the voucher program and the litigation in December.
Public money should fund public schools, which educate the vast majority of American school children.
Americans United, joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, its Colorado branch and the law firm Arnold & Porter, had filed the lawsuit on behalf of local parents and taxpayers who objected to their tax dollars being used to fund private, mostly religious schools. The voucher plan made up to 500 students eligible to receive $4,575 each in taxpayer funds to attend private schools each year.
We explained to the courts that Douglas County’s voucher scheme violated the state constitution and the residents’ religious freedom. Colorado’s constitution has a no-aid provision that prevents public dollars from being used to fund religious education.
The Colorado Supreme Court agreed with us in 2015 when it struck down the program. The district, with pro-voucher members still leading the school board at the time, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Last summer the high court sent the case back to the Colorado Supreme Court for further review.
While it’s great news that Douglas County residents’ tax dollars will be used to improve public education for all rather than funding the private, mostly religious education of a select few, the fight against vouchers is far from over. President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have been pushing to expand federally funded vouchers, and AU is tracking more than 70 bills that would create or expand state voucher programs in 2018.
You can help us by telling your state legislators and members of Congress to oppose any bills that would authorize private school vouchers. And if you’d like to know more about why vouchers are bad for children, families, public schools and taxpayers, check out this video produced by AU that outlines the harm vouchers can cause.