DENVER– The Independence Institute, Colorado’s leading pro-freedom policy voice, is deeply disappointed by today’s legal setback against a groundbreaking school choice program, but sees a small ray of hope for students who seek more quality learning options.
Today, the Colorado Supreme Court overturned the February 2013 Court of Appeals decision, which had upheld the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program as a constitutional means of providing families with extra educational options. The majority concluded that the program constitutes unconditional aid to religious institutions. Three of the seven justices dissented from this finding. (A copy of the opinion is posted at http://bit.ly/1SXXuVv.)
“This decision is difficult to swallow, especially for students who are struggling in their current school to reach their full potential,” said Education Policy Center director Pam Benigno. “Families deserve access to more educational options.”
Douglas County leaders may now ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state’s Blaine Amendment used to strike down the program. Many have argued that these 19th-century provisions are relics of anti-Catholic bigotry unfairly used to limit educational choices protected by the First Amendment.
In March 2011, the Douglas County Board of Education unanimously approved the groundbreaking pilot choice program. As enacted, 500 district students were provided public scholarship funds to attend one of more than 20 private partner schools. The district would keep 25 percent of Per-Pupil Revenue to administer the program and to cover additional needs.
Benigno and senior education policy analyst Ben DeGrow served on the Douglas County School Choice Task Force that helped to craft a number of district policy recommendations, including for the establishment of private school parental choice. In cooperation with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Independence Institute co-authored an amicus brief in defense of the program.
The Independence Institute is a non-partisan, non-profit public policy research organization based in Denver. Informational resources on the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program can be found at /douglas-county-vouchers/.