DOUGLAS COUNTY - School Board President John Carson proclaims this a great day for the school district, while opponents of the Choice Scholarship Program claim the fight is far from over.
"It's a huge victory for parental choice in Colorado and nationally," said Carson, Douglas County School Board President.
In 2011, the Douglas County School District launched a pilot program to give 500 families about $4,500 in public funds to help them pay for sending their kids to public schools. A lottery was held and more than $300,000 of public funds was sent to families participating in the program.
The American Civil Liberties Union and a group called Taxpayers for Public Education quickly led the charge of lawsuits filed against the district to halt the program.
Initially, District Court Judge Michael Martinez sided with the plaintiffs claiming it is unconstututional to give public money for use at religious schools and issued a permanent injunction. Most of the schools on the approved private school list for the program are religious schools.
Friday, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled 2-to-1 to lift the injunction and restore the program stating that the plaintiffs did not show beyond a reasonable doubt that the program violated the state constitution.
"The judge's decision today made it pretty clear that the program is constitutional," said Carson. "It didn't violate any proivision of the constitution."
ACLU Staff Attorney Rebecca Wallace disagrees.
"Today, the Colorado Court of Appeals got it wrong," said Wallace.
She says the ACLU plans to file an appeal with the Colorado Supreme Court.
"We hope and expect that they will take on the appeal and affirm that public funds are not to be used for private, religious education in Colorado," said Wallace.
Cindra Barnhard is president of Taxpayers for Public Education. She says her group will also take the matter to the state's highest court.
"We're disappointed, but certainly not discouraged," said Barnhard. "We believe in our case. We believe that the program is unconstitutional."
One of the appellate judges agreed with the plaintiffs writing a 50 page dissenting opinion supporting their claims.
"We're in this for the long haul," said Barnhard. "This is not only about the children of not only Douglas County, but of all the state of Colorado."
The impact may even be felt nationwide. This is a case that is being closely watched by school choice advocates and opponents from around the United States.
"This is a battle that's happening across the country," said Barnhard. "It landed in Douglas County."
Carson would like to get the Choice Scholarship Program up and running again as quickly as possible, but with a Supreme Court Appeal pending, he knows it won't likely happen anytime soon. If the Supreme Court takes the appeal, a final decision may not be issued for another year to 18 months or more, according to the attorneys.
Carson says he's confident the district will ultimately prevail.
"We feel that our program is great for kids in Douglas County," said Carson. "We feel it's legal. We feel it's constitutional and today the court has said that it is."
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)