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Colorado Supreme Court closes Douglas County school voucher case

January 26, 2018 Updated: January 26, 2018 at 4:19 pm
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Colorado Supreme Court closes Douglas County school voucher case (Photo By John Leyba/The Denver Post)

Opponents of Douglas County's controversial school voucher program are cheering the final step in ending the program: A decision by the Colorado Supreme Court to drop the matter.

The state's highest court Thursday granted a motion from both sides to dismiss the lawsuit. The ruling also vacated all previous orders and judgments from the two other courts involved, Denver District Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals, dismissing case as moot.

The case's plaintiffs, Taxpayers for Public Education and 11 other plaintiffs, and the respondent Douglas County School District and their co-respondents, had sought the motion to dismiss the case.

The state high court accepted the "Joint Motion to Dismiss Appeal as Moot," given that the Douglas County Board of Education in December ended the voucher program on a unanimous 6-0 vote. The board's seventh member, Kevin Leung, did not participate in the vote as he was one of the plaintiffs.

"We are very pleased that public school funds to pay for private education in Douglas County is over," said Cindy Barnard of Taxpayers for Public Education.

The Choice Scholarship Program was approved by the Douglas County Board of Education in 2012, but never had a chance to go into effect. Taxpayers for Public Education filed for an injunction that blocked the voucher program's implementation. A Denver District Court judge granted the injunction; the board of education appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals and then on to the Colorado Supreme Court, which ruled the program unconstitutional.

That decision was based on the state's Blaine Amendment, which bans the use of taxpayer dollars for sectarian purposes, including education.

The school district, with more than $1.8 million in donations from the Daniels Fund and the Walton Family Foundation, took the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the nation's highest court sent the case back last May to the Colorado Supreme Court, after a ruling in favor of a church in a similar case from Missouri.

The program would have granted a voucher to any student in Douglas County, so long as the student had spent at least one year in a DougCo public school. There were no income guidelines attached to the program nor any requirement that a student be in a failing school, a standard for voucher programs around the nation. The voucher, which was estimated at one point to be worth around $5,000, could be used to pay for tuition at any private school, including religious ones, and at private schools outside of Douglas County. The voucher would have been limited to the first 500 applicants.

An anti-voucher board was elected last November, and as one of its first official actions less than a month later, rescinded the program. Taxpayers for Public Education was joined in the lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

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