CO Judge Blocks County Voucher Pilot

Published August 12, 2011
A Denver District judge issued an injunction late Aug. 12 to put a hold on the first district-level vouchers program in the nation, sending its 500 students scurrying to find new schools after the district’s school year had begun and both sides readying themselves for a longer legal battle.
Judge Michael Martinez ruled that those suing to stop the vouchers “are in danger of real, immediate, and irreparable injury” because “property rights or fundamental constitutional rights are being destroyed or threatened with destruction.”
Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union had argued that the program diverted funds from public school students and could go to religious schools, amounting to a state subsidy of religion.
The U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled that, since individuals and not the state decide if they will direct vouchers to religious schools, vouchers do not violate the Constitution’s prohibition against the federal government establishing a religion.
“The Douglas County School Board has shown great boldness to provide parents with real school choice options,” said Pam Benigno, director of the Education Policy Center at the Colorado-based Independence Institute. “It is disappointing that, at least for this school year, scholarship students will not be allowed to attend the school that will best serve their needs.”
The ruling follows a three-day preliminary hearing in early August, three months after claimants first filed suit and six months after the Douglas County School Board unanimously approved administering vouchers through a charter school in their district.
It had already begun sending tuition checks to 19 private education providers, which had contracted with the district to educate the 500 initial students allowed into the program. The district gave providers approximately $4,600 per child, or about 75 percent of the state per-pupil allotment. The remaining 25 percent the district planned to use for administrative costs and to benefit its public schools.
Image by Jan-Erik Finnberg