School Daze: Some Colo. Parents Are Demanding Taxpayer Money For Religious Education

The thing is, no parent is being denied a religious education for their child if that’s what they want. Just because they have to pay for that education themselves without government assistance doesn’t mean anyone is being treated unfairly.

A group of parents in Colorado has taken the audacious step of demanding the right to spend taxpayer money on tuition at religious schools.

Some Douglas County parents filed suit this week against the county school board over a new voucher program that specifically excludes religious school participation. This proposal, which passed 4-3 in March, is intended to replace another controversial scheme that included religious schools.

It’s worth noting that this new plan is not exactly a hit with many of the locals. Board Member Anne-Marie Lemieux was among its opponents, saying, “Private school is not a right, it’s a privilege.”

The Denver Post reported that all public comments made about the program ahead of the vote were negative. Bob Kaser, a local resident, said: “This voucher program is an entitlement scheme for high-income families. Your vouchers will discriminate against students who are on reduced or free lunch.”

The reason for this revised voucher ploy’s existence is that an earlier version was struck down by Colorado’s Supreme Court – because that scheme would have allowed taxpayer money to flow to religious schools. Last year, Americans United and its allies successfully defeated the original voucher ploy when the Colorado high court ruled in their favor.

The program that was struck down provided 500 students with vouchers worth about $4,600, which could be spent on tuition at religious and other private schools. In order to obtain per-pupil educational funds from the state, Douglas County classified these children as “public school students” who attended a charter school that did not actually exist.

In reality, the voucher money was spent at district-approved “Private School Partners,” a collection of private schools. As of the filing of the lawsuit, 16 of the 23 approved Private School Partners were sectarian.

Nonetheless, Douglas County appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has yet to say if it will hear the matter. The board intends to add religious schools back to the program if the high court upholds the original program.

In the meantime, it’s curious that some parents would bring a challenge that clearly goes against the recent court decision. The Institute for Justice (IJ), a Libertarian-oriented legal group based in Virginia, is handling the case. In a media release, IJ claimed parents should be able to choose where they send their kids to school.

“With this lawsuit, we hope to ensure that Douglas County’s School Choice Grant Program is open to all students, regardless of whether they wish to attend a religious or nonreligious school,” IJ Senior Attorney Michael Bindas said. “Parents know better than anyone which school will work best for their child, and they should not be denied the choice of that school simply because it is religious.”

The thing is, no parent is being denied a religious education for their child if that’s what they want. Just because they have to pay for that education themselves without government assistance doesn’t mean anyone is being treated unfairly.

Americans United opposes vouchers because they are so frequently government bailouts for religious schools. That’s what IJ is seeking in its lawsuit and while all students have the right to a quality public education, none have the right to publicly funded religious instruction.   

Fortunately the Colorado Supreme Court has already weighed in on this matter. Let’s hope this latest attempt to force taxpayers to subsidize sectarian education is quickly dismissed.