School district lottery awards remaining scholarships

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When Gretchen Immen discovered the Douglas County School District opened the door for a second chance at its school vouchers, she acted quickly. Immen was on the search for a new job when she visited the district’s website, which announced a second round of applications for its remaining school-choice scholarships for the 2011-12 school year.

The district opted for a lottery drawing as the fairest way to distribute 25 scholarships to about 70 families whose names were on the list. The district conducted the drawing June 23, the day after the ACLU filed one of two lawsuits aimed to stop the voucher program.

Immen had little thought for the lawsuits when she joined a handful of candidate families at Cantril Elementary School for the lottery drawing. She was ecstatic to learn her winning number was pulled to fill the last spot.

Regardless of the outcome of the legal battle over school vouchers, she and her son Sam Immen see the process as nothing less than a miracle. Sam wants to go to Lutheran High School in Parker, where the family lives, and his dream would not be possible without the school-choice scholarship option, Immen said.

“We had dreamed about (Lutheran High School), but without the voucher system, we couldn’t have done it,” she said. “We decided to go forward with (the application process) almost on faith. Whatever comes of that (lawsuit), I’m going to trust that God will provide.”

The Douglas County School District approved its voucher program in March under the umbrella of its school-choice scholarship program. Opponents to the program say the district’s plan to distribute tax dollars to religious schools is illegal.

On June 22, two lawsuits were filed to put a stop to the program until a court can hear the case. One suit was filed by the ACLU and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the other was filed by a bipartisan group of Colorado residents called Taxpayers for Public Education. Both lawsuits were filed in Denver District Court and both claim the district’s scholarship program violates provisions of the state constitution.

Despite the lawsuits, the district is moving forward with plans to launch the program in the coming school year.

The school district announced it has signed contracts with 19 “private-partner” schools, 15 of which are religious institutions. With plans to distribute 500 scholarships in the program’s first year, the district is giving its qualified families until Oct. 31 to claim their scholarships, said Christian Cutter, Douglas County School District assistant superintendent.

“The October date allows our families sufficient time to make applications to our partner schools as they fill their classrooms,” Cutter said, “and is prior to the application process for the following school year.”