Supreme Court to Review DCSD Scholarships

March 17, 2014
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Colorado’s highest court will review scholarship program.

Colorado’s highest court will review scholarship program.

DENVER – The Colorado Supreme Court announced Monday that it would review an appellate court ruling that determined the Douglas County School District’s Choice Scholarship Program is constitutional. The program that expands school choice has drawn national attention.

The innovative program to grant vouchers to 500 Douglas County School District (DCSD) students was implemented in March 2011, but was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans for Separation of Church and State and other special interests groups.

The program would grant scholarships to students who have attended DCSD schools for at least one year to attend a qualified private-partner school of their choice.

“Today, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal in the case of LaRue v Douglas County School District,” said DCSD Board of Education Director Craig Richardson.

“The district welcomes the opportunity for the state’s highest court to review a case that presents such important issues for our state and our country. DCSD is committed to expanding choice for parents and one of the ways is our innovative Choice Scholarship Program,” Richardson said.

In February 2013, a three-judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the district, finding that the program was constitutional and did not violate state law. The ACLU and opponents petitioned the state Supreme Court in hopes of overturning the Appellate Court ruling.

ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein lauded the state high court’s decision as an opportunity to strike down DCSD’s scholarship program, which he called a “misguided funding scheme.”

Silverstein argued that the school choice voucher program violates the separation of church and state by redirecting taxpayer funds from public to private schools which could be associated with Catholic, Christian, Jewish and other religions institutions.

“Parents are free to send their children to religious schools,” said Silverstein, but at their own expense – not public funds.

However, the Appeals Court agreed with previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions such as Zelman v. Simons-Harris, that determined a K-12 scholarship program similar to that offered by DCSD is a matter of “true private choice.”

In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the school choice program benefitted a broad class of citizens who chose schools for their children. If the school was affiliated with a religious entity, it was the parents’ independent choice and not determined by the school district.

An “incidental advancement of a religious mission is reasonably attributable to the individual recipient, not to the government,” the court concluded.

The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to review the Court of Appeals decision in favor of DCSD “does not mean that the court disagrees with the Court of Appeals ruling,” Richardson said.

“It simply means that the court recognizes the importance of the case for our state and our country,” Richardson said.

The Colorado Supreme Court will now receive briefs on the merits, hear oral arguments by the parties, and eventually issue a decision.

Based on the compelling legal reasoning and analytical strength of the Court of Appeals’ ruling, the Douglas County School District and Board of Education issued a statement that they are highly confident in the outcome.

The Choice Scholarship Program is an initiative, inaugurated by the DCSD Board of Education in March 2011, as part of its ‘Choice Blueprint’ strategic plan, which provides funding for a limited number of students to attend certain private ‘partner’ schools that meet the district’s criteria for academic quality and educational rigor.

“Our district, using privately raised funds and no taxpayer dollars, mounted a defense of the DCSD Choice Scholarship Program in the courts,” said Richardson. “We were joined in that cause by the State of Colorado, as well as groups of parents who wanted their children to participate in the pilot program in order to improve their academic achievement.”

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7 Responses to Supreme Court to Review DCSD Scholarships

  1. March 17, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    There was never any doubt in my mind that the Colorado Supreme Court would hear this on appeal (predicted that from day one).

    Based on the Court of Appeals ruling, I’d say that the odds of the Douglas County School Board prevailing on appeal are strong.

    Analysis of the Court of Appeals ruling here:
    http://www.clearthebenchcolorado.org/2013/02/28/colorado-court-of-appeals-reverses-lower-court-upholds-constitutionality-of-douglas-county-school-choice-program/

  2. Brian McFarlane
    March 18, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Vouchers take power from politicians and bureaucrats, letting parents decide where their children will go to school, worse yet a religious school (OMG!). That is obviously offensive to those on the left, who think that our betters should be making our decisions for us.

  3. Tom Woodward
    March 19, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    I most sincerely believe that this is a unconstitutional program. A portion of my tax dollars would most end up in the coffers of an institution with a mandate, public or private, to promote theologies and ideologies inconsistent to which the public at large would be unable to address. Our tax contributions to the school district are intended to fund public schools through a duly elected school board responsible to all citizens.

    This program usurps that basic expectation.

  4. Shawn
    March 19, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    As a parent of 1 of the 500 initially selected for the program, I can only hope this is in favor of DCSD sometime soon. The Liberal’s argument is an oxymoron due to parents whose children already go to private schools, who are paying both tuition and taxes that fund public schools. Liberals can seemingly mess everything up i.e. Biblical principles/marriage, health care, illegal alien amnesty, welfare, education, etc., if it benefits their agenda and numbers.

    • Brady
      March 20, 2014 at 10:09 am

      We all share the responsibility of paying taxes to support public schools, because we all benefit from an educated populace. This includes those whose children are grown and no longer in the school system, those who don’t have children, and yes, even those who want to send their children to some ‘intelligent design’ academy. Those in the last category need to understand the distinction between the purposes of tax dollars to support public education and tuition payments so that they don’t fall victim to the misconception that they are somehow double-paying–one example of the flawed logic that led to the voucher program in the first place. This program is clearly unconstitutional, and for good reason. For all of our sake, let’s hope the Supreme Court recognizes this and rules accordingly.

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