January 2018 Church & State | People & Events

A Colorado school board in an affluent county near Denver on Dec. 4 agreed to end a private school voucher program that Americans Uni­ted has been challenging in court since 2011.

The Douglas County School Board unanimously agreed not only to end the “Choice Scholarship Program,” but also to terminate the district’s involvement in the resulting litigation – a move that could spell the end of a legal battle that began six years ago.

“It has always been my belief that public school funding is for public school education,” David Ray, president of the Douglas County School Board, said in a statement to the Denver television station CBS4. “I respect every parent’s right to choose a public or private education for their child. However, as a public school system our taxpayers should expect us to spend solely on educating our 68,000 plus students who have chosen Douglas County schools.”

Board member Krista Holtzmann told the education blog Chalkbeat: “Public funds should not be diverted to private schools, which are not accountable to the public.”

The board’s reversal came after a November election in which voters swept out the pro-voucher faction and elected candidates who support public education. The race garnered national attention because it occurred amid the push by President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to expand federally funded vouchers.

Advocates of school privatization poured money into the coffers of the pro-voucher slate. But in the end, the voters backed public schools.

The pro-voucher faction had controlled the Douglas County board since at least 2011, when they approved a voucher scheme that made up to 500 students eligible to receive $4,575 each in taxpayer funds to attend private, mostly religious, schools.

The program never got off the ground because AU and allies at the American Civil Liberties Union, its Colorado branch and the law firm Arnold & Porter filed a lawsuit on behalf of local parents and taxpayers who objected to the plan. The lawsuit, Taxpayers for Public Education v. Douglas County School District, argues the voucher program violated Colorado’s constitution, which has a no-aid provision that prevents public dollars from being used to fund religious education.

The Colorado Supreme Court struck down the voucher program in 2015. The district appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court; over the summer the high court sent the case back to the Colorado Supreme Court for further review.

At Church & State’s press time, it was uncertain how the school board’s decision to end the program would impact the litigation. AU Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser said the case should be dismissed, asserting, “The Colorado courts should dismiss the case as moot. No more public funds should be spent on the defense of a program that has been repealed.”