The issues: Voucher program in limbo


Douglas County's voucher plan, the Choice Scholarship Program, is in limbo.

The program, legally challenged after its 2011 introduction, allows parents to use state-issued funds toward tuition at private schools. Most of the schools included in the program are religious.

Denver District Court declared the program unconstitutional in August 2011, but the Colorado Court of Appeals issued the opposite opinion in February 2013.

The program's opponents, which include the American Civil Liberties Union and the nonprofit Taxpayers for Public Education, have asked the Colorado Supreme Court to take the case. It has not yet made a decision to do so.

Until a decision is made, the pilot program is on hold.

The voucher program was the first among several controversial changes introduced by the current school board.

Opponents say it blurs the line between separation of church and state, and dilutes funding for public schools.

“Three's one pot of money for the student in the state of Colorado,” Taxpayers for Public Education president Cindy Barnard said. “By diverting any money, we've decreased the funding for every student in the state of Colorado, not just Douglas County.”

Supporters say the program offers parents another educational choice, and that the district maintains educational control by ensuring partner schools meet district testing standards.

Michael Bindas, an attorney from the Institute for Justice who's representing three of the voucher families, said the program is not religious in nature. Only one of his three clients chose a religious school for their student.

“There are two critical components to a constitutional school choice program,” he said after the Colorado Court of Appeals ruling. “The first is that it has to be religion neutral, (that) religious and non-religious schools alike are free to participate in the program.

“The second critical component is private choice. The fact is, under the program, not a penny flows to any school — religious or non-religious — but for the private and independent choice of parents.”

Voucher opponents also cite concerns about involvement from outside national groups that some believe have a pro-privatization agenda. They believe it is patterned after model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that supports limited government, free markets and federalism.