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Court Rejects Colorado School District's Voucher Plan

A groundbreaking private school voucher plan adopted by a Colorado school district violates the state constitution, a state trial judge has ruled.

Judge Michael A. Martinez of Denver County District Court granted an injunction barring the Douglas County school district from implementing its Choice Scholarship Pilot Program, holding that groups challenging the program have established that it violates several state constitutional provisions.

Under the plan adopted by the Douglas County school board in March, the school district intends to pay about $4,575 per student (which is about 75 percent of state per-pupil funding) to private schools for up to 500 students who previously attended public schools for at least a year. Board members said the program would save the district money, promote competition in education, and provide choices to parents.

The program, scheduled to begin this fall, was challenged by two groups of taxpayers as a violation of the Colorado Constitution's provisions on public school finance and against government aid to religion. The district contracted with 23 private schools to participate, at least 14 of which are religiously affiliated, court papers say.

"Because the religious private school partners infuse religious tenets into their educational curriculum, any funds provided to the schools, even if strictly limited to the cost of education, will result in the impermissible aid to private school partners to further their missions of religious indoctrination to purportedly 'public' school students," Judge Martinez said his Aug. 12 decision in Larue v. Douglas County School District.

In a statement on the school district's website, Douglas County Board of Education President John Carson said, "This ruling is not what the people of Douglas County wanted or what we know is in the best interests of our students."

The statement said the district will comply with the ruling, but strongly suggests that an appeal will be filed. "The district believes the Choice Scholarship Program will stand up to further legal scrutiny," the statement says.

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