Judge Hearing Arguments On DougCo School Vouchers

Pilot Program Will Provide Stipend For 500 Students

A Denver District Court judge is holding a hearing Monday on lawsuits filed against the Douglas County school district over its voucher program.

Judge Michael Martinez ruled the cases should remain in Denver District Court because state officials had a substantial role in developing the program, according to the Denver Post.

In March, the school board approved a pilot program that would provide a public stipend for up to 500 current Douglas County students to attend private school this fall. The qualified students will receive $4,575 vouchers to attend one of 19 public or parochial schools next school year. Fourteen of those schools are partnered with religious institutions.

In June, the American Civil Liberties Union, the parents group Taxpayers for Public Schools and others filed suits in Denver District Court against the district and the state board, challenging the legality of the voucher program, claiming it violates the Colorado Constitution's religious liberty provisions, which bar the use of public funds for religious schools.

"We are asking the court to stop this misguided program before it goes any further," said ACLU-Colorado director Mark Silverstein in a news release. "We support a parent's right to choose. The issue is that they can't do so with taxpayer money."

"When a parent makes the choice about where to spend the educational dollars, there is not a constitutional problem with the U.S. Constitution," said Robert Ross, legal counsel for the Douglas County School District.

Ross said the district's voucher program mirrored a school district's program in Cleveland, which was also challenged. That district's court battle made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, he said, and the district won.

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