The political shockwave set off in Virginia is dominating today’s headlines, but it’s important to remember that there were other elections last night. One of them, from Colorado, should not be overlooked.
A few years ago, Douglas County became a flashpoint for private school vouchers. A right-wing, pro-voucher slate took control of the board and passed a plan that made up to 500 students eligible to receive $4,575 each in taxpayer funds to attend private schools, most of which are religious, during the 2011-12 school year.
Voters in Douglas County, Colo., have made it clear that they want the school board to focus on public schools.
AU and its allies sued over the scheme, arguing that it violated a provision in the Colorado Constitution that prevents public money being used to fund religious entities. In 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed with us. The school board subsequently asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the matter.
This issue has roiled the county of about 320,000 residents for years, but it looks like voters in Douglas County have had enough. Last night, they elected four members of an anti-voucher, pro-public education slate called CommUnity Matters to the seven-member board. As the Denver Post reported, the action means the voters are “effectively killing the district’s controversial voucher program and entirely remaking the seven-member board.”
The school board race in Douglas County attracted national attention. Pro-voucher groups poured money into the race, hoping to save the voucher plan. They were joined by Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs who in September issued a letter urging church members to “implore the Holy Spirit to help guide you as you decide who will best protect and expand parental choice in Douglas County.” (Church officials also issued a slanted “voter guide” and took other actions to help the pro-voucher slate.)
The voters had others ideas. They want the focus back on public schools.
“It is time to return our attention locally – to the students, teachers and community of all Douglas County public schools – while restoring our attention locally,” Anthony Graziano, one of the winning candidates, told The Post. “I look forward to working with my fellow board members in a collaborative and transparent manner.…”
Graziano called the voucher program a “distraction to the district.”
It was certainly that – and it violated the state constitution to boot. Douglas County voters were wise to ignore the pressure from outside groups and sectarian special interests. Here’s hoping the new school board soon gets back to the important work of improving public education for all.