DENVER – The Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of a Douglas County school choice pilot program on Thursday, overturning a much-criticized lower court ruling, and handing the reform-minded Douglas County school board a huge victory in what has been a high profile battle.
But Douglas County School District (DCSD) Board of Education President John Carson said the real winners on Thursday were students and their parents.
“This is incredibly positive news and a huge victory for the students and parents of Douglas County,” said Carson. “We know that each student learns differently, and our goal is to provide every parent with the opportunity to choose the best possible educational environment for their child.”
The Choice Scholarship Pilot Program, which was approved in March 2011, “will provide up to 500 Douglas County students with scholarships for the qualified private-partner school of their choice,” according to a DCSD press release.
The ruling overturns an August 2011 decision by Denver District Court Judge Michael Martinez to block the pilot project, in which he found that the program violated the state constitution. The Court of Appeals disagreed, however, overruling Martinez on Thursday.
“We conclude that plaintiffs do not have standing to seek redress for a claimed violation of the Act, and that the CSP (Choice Scholarship Program) does not violate any of the constitutional provisions on which plaintiffs rely,” wrote Judge Jerry Jones for the 2-1 court majority. “Therefore, we reverse the district court’s judgment and remand the case for entry of judgment in defendants’ favor.”
Despite the landmark ruling, however, the future of the innovative Douglas County program remains uncertain. The left-leaning groups on the losing side of Thursday’s decision — Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – reportedly plan to appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.