by Brian Washington
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The Colorado Supreme Court has struck a decisive blow against a voucher program in Douglas County that siphoned away critical funding from public schools.
In a 4-3 decision, the high court ruled that Douglas County’s Choice Scholarship Program (CSP), a voucher program that used taxpayer dollars to pay the cost of tuition at private and religious schools, violated Article IX Section 7 of the Colorado Constitution, which prohibits public money going to schools under the control of a “church or sectarian denomination.”
“[T]he Colorado Constitution prohibits school districts from aiding religious schools,” Chief Justice Nancy E. Rice wrote in her conclusion. “The CSP has created financial partnerships between the District and religious schools and, in so doing, has facilitated students attending such schools. This constitutes aid to religious institutions as contemplated by section 7. Therefore, we hold that the CSP violates section 7.”
“We’re incredibly gratified that the state’s Supreme Court recognized that public dollars should stay in public schools,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association (CEA).
Instead of taking taxpayer dollars away from the state’s severely underfunded public schools and handing them over to private schools, which are considered private businesses in Colorado, educators believe politicians need to invest in public education and real solutions to help students, including measures designed to increase parental involvement and reduce class sizes so kids can get more individual attention.
Nationwide, about 16 states and the District of Columbia are investing more than $1 billion annually in voucher or tuition tax credit programs.
CSP gave away about 500 vouchers, or so-called “scholarships”, at about $4,500 per student. The funds could be used at 23 private schools—16 of which were religious in nature. Although approved in 2011, the voucher program was put on hold while educators and other pro-public education activists challenged its constitutionality in court.
Billionaires Charles and David Koch were strong supporters of the program. And, as Education Votes has pointed out before, the Koch Brothers have been connected to a wide variety of market-based reforms designed to undermine public schools and rob Americans of their best opportunity to provide a quality public education for all students.
Meanwhile, the Douglas County School Board has announced it will try to amend the program so it can proceed in the fall. Board members are also threatening to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
As for educators, they vow to remain vigilant to ensure that public monies are used for Colorado’s public schools–which they say are already struggling financially.