Douglas County Vouchers

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Read the June 29, 2015, Independence Institute press release:
“Colorado Supremes Reject Dougco Choice Program”

Read the May 7, 2013, Independence Institute press release:
“Dougco Loves Choice, School Board’s Reforms”

Read the February 28, 2013, Independence Institute press release:
“Appeals Court Panel Renews Dougco Families’ Hopes”

Read the August 12, 2011, Independence Institute press release:
“Dougco Choice Ruling Harms Kids, But Fight Goes On”

Summary (current as of July 2, 2015)
On March 15, 2011, Colorado’s Douglas County School District Board of Education voted unanimously to create the Pilot Choice Scholarship Program, beginning in fall 2011. It is in all likelihood the first locally enacted program of its kind in the nation. Douglas County is Colorado’s third-largest school district, enrolling more than 66,000 students in the 2014-15 school year.

Students who reside in Douglas County School District and had been enrolled in a Douglas County public school for at least one year were eligible to apply for a Choice Scholarship. Since scholarship applications exceeded the cap of 500 students for the 2011-2012 school year, the district held a June 2011 lottery. Students who did not win one of the 500 slots were placed on a numbered waiting list.

Under the program, scholarship recipients could receive as much as 75 percent of state per-pupil funding (approximately $4,600 in 2011-12, just over $5,000 in 2014-15) or the amount of nonpublic school tuition, whichever was less. The Douglas County School District was to issue quarterly checks payable to the parents of Choice Scholarship recipients, which the parents then restrictively endorsed to the participating nonpublic schools that accepted their students for enrollment.

In order to participate nonpublic schools could be located within or outside of the Douglas County School District boundaries and had to meet certain requirements set forth by the Board of Education. Participating schools — 23 were approved (17 religious and 6 non-religious) — were not required to change their admission criteria to accept Choice Scholarships, but must offer the option of a waiver for voucher students who do not desire to participate in religious services. Partner nonpublic schools were required to show student achievement and growth results for Choice Scholarship students at least as strong as Douglas County neighborhood and charter school results. Choice Scholarship recipients would be required to take the same state assessments required of public school students.

Courtesy of Benjamin Hummel, Politix Cartoons

On June 21, 2011, plaintiffs including the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a legal complaint against the Choice Scholarship Program. Two weeks later plaintiffs submitted a formal injunction request. A three-day hearing (August 2-4) in Denver District Court resulted in a ruling by Judge Michael A. Martinez to enjoin the program. More than 300 Douglas County students had enrolled in a private school partner for the 2011-12 year, and some had begun class as of the August 12 decision. Judge Martinez determined that “the threatened constitutional injuries…outweighs the threatened harm the injunction may inflict on” scholarship students and families.

The Douglas County School District and the Institute for Justice filed appeals of the August 12 ruling with the Colorado Court of Appeals. After several delays, oral arguments in LaRue v Colo State Bd of Education were held before a three-judge appeals court panel on November 19, 2012. The ruling was published three months later, with a majority of the panel overturning the initial decision and remanding the case back to the district court with instructions favorable to the program.

On April 11, 2013, the ACLU and other plaintiffs formally petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court to review the Appeals Court ruling. The Colorado Supreme Court announced on March 17, 2014, that they would hear the case, including several key issues decided in the lower courts. Both sides exchanged written briefs arguing their case to the state’s highest court. A number of amicus briefs also were filed, including one jointly produced by the Independence Institute and Friedman Foundation that highlights the strong research basis for school choice in general and Dougco’s Choice Scholarship Program in particular.

The Colorado Supreme Court heard an hour of oral arguments in the case of Taxpayers for Public Education v Douglas County School District on December 10, 2014. On June 29, 2015, a 4-3 majority of the state’s high court overturned the Court of Appeals’ ruling by declaring the Choice Scholarship Program provided government aid to religious institutions. Douglas County leaders have expressed a strong interest in taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and challenging Blaine Amendments like the one used to strike down this program. In the meantime, the school board also is considering to restart a scaled back version of the program that includes only non-religious private school options. Further developments are awaited.

Learn about the need for Douglas County vouchers, as explained by the real-life story of Nate Oakley and his mom Diana:

(An Independence Institute production)

Award-winning film director Bob Bowdon features the Douglas County Choice Scholarship program in a superb 8-minute news feature for his new venture Choice Media TV, released on November 3, 2011:

Watch the November 19, 2010, episode of Devil’s Advocate as host Jon Caldara is joined by Douglas County School District Board of Education President John Carson and Independence Institute Education Policy Analyst Ben DeGrow for a discussion of how a voucher system would work, and the kind of education choices it would open up or Douglas County parents and their children:

Click the links below to watch additional video: