CO court rules public dollars should be used for public school students

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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.

Reader Comments

  1. Now something needs to be done about the private schools masquerading as public schools by calling themselves “charter schools”.

  2. Taxpayer money should stop for all these charter schools popping up all over Illinois. They siphon a considerable amount of taxpayer money from public schools in their area without the accountability. They try to pass themselves off as public because they use a lottery to choose students. However they manage to always get the brightest, including children of many of their cronies.

  3. Glad for this decision. If only the same happens here in N.C. – I do not know how they can even think of giving tax dollars to private schools. Further, the private schools need to think this through. Once they start receiving public money, they may well find themselves being told what and what not to do, and there goes their religious autonomy!

  4. When will the public catch on to the fact that vouchers mean segregated schools? The children who are using the vouchers are the brighter and more dedicated ones, leaving behind the average and struggling students in the public school. That is segregation, not by race or religion, but by scholastic aptitude. Why take a child who is succeeding in the public school out of it? Why not allow the private schools to try their hand at educating the difficult, underachieving students?
    Privatizing education is as bad an idea as privatizing hospitals has proved to be. We had seven hospitals serving our county. Now we have two! No profit = no hospital.

  5. There is a portion of the population that can afford to send their children to private school—and these schools are not the private schools the vouchers send the other children to. The politicians who are trying to destroy public education do not want voucher children in their children’s schools—-they want their children and those like them to be educated to rule, and the rest of society to receive inferior education, and serve. The idea of FREE PUBLIC EDUCATION FOR ALL is to lay an even playing field FOR ALL- Why aren’t teachers and politicians fighting to save public education, rather than blaming the teachers.

    1. Probably money. The Koch bros give a lot of money to campaign donations, particularly to conservative candidates.

  6. Kudos to Colorado!!
    Perhaps there needs to be a mini lesson on the definitions of the words “public” and “private”. If parents want their child to have a private education, they should not rely on a public institution for funding. There are two options:1) pay for it yourselves 2) homeschool your child.
    Unfortunately here in NC there are too many politicians like Governor Mctcrory that want to line their own pockets or make themselves look good in front of the ultra rich.

  7. Why would the Douglas County School Board want to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court?
    Is there funny money going on in Colorado?

    1. What exactly is the public interest in a School Board (public entity) spending the time and money to allow students to go to private schools by partially (believe me, they don’t even pay the full amount) paying the tuition? If we want to use a “market based” solution (to what problem I have no idea), then we had better use the right “market”. Free market theories do NOT apply to K to 12 education. It is equally as ludicrous as trying to find a “market based” solution to traffic light operations in a city. Education is a public good. I benefit from somebody else’s children being educated. So called “market based” solutions are just a spin story for a ruse to allow corporations to take over, control and receive revenue from the government (WHAT?!?!) to serve their profit seeking agenda. THAT will NOT be education, I can assure you!

    2. Living in Colorado Springs, I see things like this all over the place. For instance, I see the county sheriff directing traffic outside of many churches on Sunday afternoon using our tax dollars (as a “public” service). In Douglas County, you have “christian” and political fundamentalists who come from Liberty “university” and other bastions of fundamentalism who believe they were elected (many times by deception by not coming out on their true views during elections) to make this country a “christian” country. Because the schools can’t legally allow prayer or bend over backwards to their aim (saw this myself in Oklahoma and Utah in the 1970’s and before when I was in school), these people see it as their job to get elected by any/all means and break down any/all institutions they have control over and be able to corrupt to their core.

    3. Because there is a lot of money at stake. An elected school board member, who has the time and money to serve, often has powerful supporters. Real estate developers in particular, have an interest and influence in available school matters and locations.

  8. It’s interesting that the school board, flying in the face of what the people want, is digging in to defend this all the way to the Supremes.

    What’s in it for them? Who benefits?

  9. Thank you Colorado Supreme Court for protecting taxpayers, our public schools and the separation of Church and State.

  10. Yeah, Colorado! Public money is for public education, for which we pay taxes. Tax credits for religious institutions flies in the face of the constitution.

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