Judgment reversed on DougCo vouchers

DENVER - The Colorado Supreme Court announced Monday they were reversing the lower court's decision in the case of Taxpayers for Public Education, et. al, v. Douglas County School District, et. al.

What this ruling means is Douglas County will not be able to implement the voucher program. Justices directed the case back to Denver District Court so that an order permanently blocking the program can be reinstated. The school district is still reviewing the ruling but officials expect to appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

This case was brought against Douglas County by Taxpayers for Public Education and several other parties.

Four years ago, the Douglas County School District launched its Choice Scholarship Pilot Program - a grant mechanism that awarded taxpayer-funded scholarships to qualifying elementary, middle, and high school students.

Those students could use their scholarships to help pay their tuition at partnering private schools, including religious schools.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled the following:

"The supreme court first holds that Petitioners lack standing to challenge the CSP under the Act. A plurality of the supreme court further holds, however, that the CSP violates article IX, section 7 of the Colorado Constitution. Accordingly, the supreme court reverses the judgment of the court of appeals and remands the case to that court with instructions to return the case to the trial court so that the trial court may reinstate its order permanently enjoining the CSP."

Read the full details of the ruling here: http://bit.ly/1SXXuVv.

Taxpayers for Public Education, et. al said "This is a great victory for public school children in Colorado" once the Supreme Court decision was announced. "The DCSD voucher program took taxpayer funds, intended for public education, and used that money to pay for private school education for a few select students. The decision means that money set aside for public education in Colorado can only be used the way it was intended to be used for the betterment of education in Colorado public schools."

DCSD argued that invalidating the program would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, citing similarities to an Ohio voucher program that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of in 2002 (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris).

"This is a disappointing ruling for the students of Douglas County and all students in Colorado. But today's ruling paves the way for the U.S. Supreme Court to evaluate the constitutionality of Colorado's Blaine Amendment, which is any ugly part of no fewer than 37 state constitutions."

Today's decision states that the plaintiffs argued against DCSD under Article IX, section 7 of the state constitution, not the U.S. constitution – which could have given the DCSD a better argument, according to the decision – instead allowing the state Supreme Court to rule in a legally more restrictive way because "by its terms, section 7 is far more restrictive that the Establishment Clause regarding governmental aid to religion, and the Supreme Court has recognized that state constitutions may draw a tighter ned around the conferral of such aid."

The decision also stated that the Ohio voucher program forbade schools from discriminating students on the basis of religion: "Not only does the CSP fail to prohibit this form of discrimination – it actively permits Private School Partners to engage in it."

While DCSD's voucher program would allow the district to implement certain requirements and administer assessment tests to the private schools, "the private school need not, however, modify its admission criteria ... "

However, DCSD Board of Education Director Craig Richardson said the district would be willing to modify its program to make it more legally viable.

"We will move out in every possible way we can, in ways that are fully compliant with today's decision with our Scholarship Program," he said. "We will adopt modifications to our CSP and proceed expeditiously in ways that are compliant with the court's order. This is a board that will be compliant with the law. We will comply with the Colorado Supreme Court's decision. We are committed to that. We owe the court that."

Cindy Barnard, a plaintiff and and opponent of the vouchers, called today's decision a "victory."

"This is a great day for public education in Colorado," she said. "Public monies that are earmarked for public education, for our kids in Colorado, now must stay."

The district has spent more than $1 million on attorney's fees, however all of the money has come from private donors, most of which from the Daniels Fund.

DCSD said its lawyers will review today's ruling to determine exactly what precedent it has set, but did not shy away from its eventual goal.

"We will carefully review their decision, and if there are ways of proceeding immediately, we will do that," Richardson said. "Even as we consider bringing the US Supreme Court into the picture."

Barnard said their choice to appeal won't come as a surprise.

"It's all about equality. It's about an appropriate, strong, public education that meets the needs of all students," she said. "I am happy that we have won for the children in Colorado. It's not unexpected. They have said before. They have said at the very beginning of the suit that they would take it to the US Supreme Court."

(KUSA-TV © 2015 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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