Judge halts vouchers in Colorado

Days before the start of school, a Colorado judge has blocked a voucher plan. Denver District Judge Michael A. Martinez issued a permanent injunction of the Douglas County district’s pilot Choice Scholarship Program.

“The prospect of having millions of dollars of public school funding diverted to private schools, many of which are religious and lie outside of the Douglas County School District, creates a sufficient basis to establish standing for taxpayers seeking to ensure lawful spending of these funds,” Martinez wrote in his ruling.

The pilot program allows up to 500 students already enrolled in Douglas County public schools to receive up to $4,575 toward tuition at a private school.  The district already had made the first payment to parents of 265 of 304 students who’d applied.


Colorado county OKs vouchers

Up to 500 students will receive $4,575 vouchers to attend private schools in Douglas County, Colorado this fall. The school board voted 7-0 Tuesday for the plan, which is not restricted to low-income students. A private philanthropy has promised to provide additional aid to low-income families who want to enroll their children in private schools that charge more than the voucher amount.

Participating private schools must monitor attendance and give  state exams to voucher students. Religious schools can take voucher students, as long as they’re not required to participate in religious activities.

The county will retain one-quarter of the state funding per student, an estimated $1,525. If all 500 vouchers are used, the district will have $762,500 to administer the voucher program, pay legal expenses and potentially fund other needs.

Surprisingly, the Douglas County teachers union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, did not oppose the plan.

“We applaud the district and teachers for working collaboratively … to ensure money will not leave a budget with scarce resources, holds all participating schools accountable and provides an equal opportunity for all our students,” teachers union President Brenda Smith said in a written statement. “We will continue to monitor its implementation.”

School board members said the pilot “will save the district money, encourage healthy competition and vest school choice where it belongs – with families,” reports Education News Colorado.

“The system isn’t broken but we want to make it better,” (Board President John) Carson said of the high-performing district. “It’s time for more choice, competition and innovation in our public education system.”

A legal challenge is certain. The board’s lawyer points out that a statewide voucher plan was ruled unconstitutional because it infringed on local school boards’ authority. That argument wouldn’t apply to the Douglas County pilot.