In March 2011, the Douglas County Board of Education voted to create a “Pilot Choice Scholarship Plan,” through which the Douglas County School District has authorized 500 students to use state, per-pupil educational funds that are earmarked for the public school system as vouchers to attend private schools. Most of the participating “Private School Partners” are religious, and these participating schools may discriminate on the basis of religion in both hiring and admissions.
On June 21, 2011, Americans United—joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Colorado, and the law firm of Arnold & Porter—filed a lawsuit in Colorado state court challenging the voucher plan. The plaintiffs allege that the County, along with state agencies that helped to develop and fund the voucher program, violated both the Colorado Constitution’s religious liberty provisions, which bar the appropriation of public funds to religious schools, and a variety of other constitutional and statutory requirements. We soon added a request for a preliminary injunction.
Hear AU Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper debate the Douglas County voucher program on Denver talk radio.
In August 2011, following a three-day trial, the court halted implementation of the voucher program, concluding that it violated five separate provisions of the Colorado Constitution as well as a Colorado statute. Among other things, the court held that the program unconstitutionally provides taxpayer money to religious institutions.
In September 2011, the defendants appealed the case to the Colorado Court of Appeals. The parties recently filed their appellate briefs. Oral argument will take place on October 15, 2012.
Read our brief to the Court of Appeals.