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BFFs of the Court: Chiming in for Choice in Douglas County

Court briefs are terrifying to kids like me. They are long, complicated, and governed by a system of rules in which words like “pagination” and “certiorari” are commonplace. And, in a cruelly ironic twist, they are anything but “brief.” Worse still, they have absolutely no pictures. To be honest, I look at most legal briefs as potential stockpiles of spit wad ammunition, not worthwhile entertainment reading.

That said, when someone files a legal brief aimed at supporting increased educational choice, it’s hard not to take notice. Such is the case this week.

Back on August 4, my friends at the Independence Institute and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice filed an amicus brief on behalf of Douglas County School District in the ongoing litigation over its pilot Choice Scholarship Program. As you may remember from one of my previous posts, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed to hear the case after an appellate court overturned a lower court’s initial ruling against the program.

As David Kopel, the brief’s filing attorney, outlines in a recent blog post, this particular amicus brief is heavily focused on Choice Scholarship Program’s design and the empirical evidence on voucher programs in general.

While this represents a somewhat different tack than most amicus briefs take, the Independence Institute and Friedman Foundation brief was written to provide an evidentiary counterbalance to amicus briefs filed by the Colorado Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

In particular, the Independence Institute and Friedman Foundation brief argues that the Choice Scholarship Program is responsibly designed as a pilot program, fiscally sound, and unlikely to result in the cataclysmic harms outlined by CEA and AFT in their briefs. It also reviews the best available empirical evidence on voucher programs in the United States.

Overall, this research finds that vouchers help some students and have no effect on others. There is no empirical evidence that vouchers harm students who use them, nor is there any indication that Douglas County’s pilot voucher program would harm students who remain in DCSD’s excellent public schools.

None of these arguments is directly related to the actual constitutional issues of the case. However, they will (hopefully) allow the justices to make well-informed legal rulings without being swayed by lopsided information on the policy side of the debate. This is critically important; the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling on the program could have implications both in Colorado and around the nation.

Do you want my two cents? I’m only five, but even I know that more choice is preferable to less. Can you imagine a world with only vanilla ice cream? Or only one flavor of Slurpee?  I know I can’t.

On a more serious note, every child and every family is different. They have different priorities, interests, and beliefs. They also have different educational needs that are not always met by the public school system. If we can provide valuable educational choices to the students and families who need them without harming others, don’t we have an obligation to do so?