Douglas County School District

State's Supreme Court to hear voucher case

Program introduced in 2011 remains on hold through judicial process


The Colorado Supreme Court will hear the Douglas County School District voucher case.

It issued an order March 17 granting that request from several plaintiffs in the original 2011 filing. The case likely won't be heard until late summer or early fall, an attorney working for one of the plaintiffs said.

That distant date - or the 11 months it took the state's high court to render its decision - didn't dampen the excitement of some involved with the case.

"We're thrilled," said Cindy Barnard, president of the nonprofit Taxpayers for Public Education. "We certainly see this as a victory for us. When you look at the way the court has written the writ, it's very clear they're looking at all the substantive issues we brought forward."

The pilot program, named the Choice Scholarship Program, allows parents to use state-issued funds toward tuition at private schools. Most of the schools included in the program are religious.

Barnard and others, including the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, filed suit after DCSD introduced the program, and Denver District Court declared it unconstitutional in August 2011.

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued the opposite opinion in February 2012. But until a final decision is made, the pilot program is on hold.

"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," school board member Craig Richardson said.

The voucher program was the first among several changes introduced by the reform-driven school board. Opponents say it blurs the line between separation of church and state, and dilutes funding for public schools. Supporters say the program offers parents another educational choice.

Michael Bindas, an attorney from the Institute for Justice who's representing three of the voucher families, is not surprised by the decision.

"It's unfortunate the scholarship program's implementation is going to be further delayed by (this)," he said. "But the good news is the program's constitutionality will now be finally resolved. And a decision upholding the program would have precedential value statewide. It would also have persuasive authority in other states."

Richardson characterized the Supreme Court's decision as "purely procedural."

"It does not mean the court disagrees with the ruling of the court of appeals," he said. "It simply means the court recognizes the importance of the case ..."

Alex Luchenitser, an attorney for plaintiff Americans United, is pleased by the news.

"This is a very important case," he said. "This program uses taxpayer funds to pay for religious education. One of the most fundamental principles of the American constitutional tradition of church state separation is taxpayers should not be forced to support religious instruction in a faith to which they don't believe."

Opening briefs are due in six weeks, with additional deadlines set for respondents and reply briefs. A hearing then will be set.


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