Institute for Justice Vows To Defend Colorado Parents From Teachers’ Union Legal Attack

John Kramer
John Kramer · May 20, 2003

Washington, D.C. –The Institute for Justice, the nation’s leading legal advocate for parental choice in education, today pledged to defend in court the rights of Colorado parents to choose where and how their children are educated from a legal attack by teachers’ unions and their allies. The unions today filed a lawsuit attempting to block Colorado’s historic parental choice program, the first new voucher program since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld choice in Cleveland last June.

“The teachers unions and their allies will get a cold reception from the Rocky Mountain State,” said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice. “Colorado Supreme Court precedent is very favorable to parents’ rights, and we will vigorously defend those rights.”

The Colorado Education Association, National Education Association and other special interest groups argue the program violates the Colorado Constitution’s two prohibitions against using public funds to support religious institutions—even though parental choice dollars support parents and children, not institutions. The Colorado Supreme Court explicitly rejected such arguments in 1982 when it affirmed that programs that provide aid to students—who may freely choose to use the aid in a religious school—are constitutional.

Choice opponents have used these state constitutional provisions—the so-called Blaine Amendment and the “compelled support” clause—in similar challenges to parental choice in Wisconsin, Ohio, Arizona and Illinois. Each state’s supreme court rejected the unions’ arguments. The Arizona Supreme Court went further, calling that state’s Blaine Amendment “a clear manifestation of religious bigotry” against Catholics as it upheld the constitutionality of Arizona’s tax credit program. The U.S. Supreme Court has also recognized the Blaine Amendment’s “shameful pedigree” as a legacy of long-past anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant discrimination.

“Not long before they lost at the U.S. Supreme Court, teachers’ unions and other groups opposed to parental choice promised to use every tactic imaginable to block choice programs,” added Mellor. “It’s outrageous that their tactics include propping up religious bigotry.”

“All I want is a stable school for my children where they get the attention they need to succeed,” said Kenya Knezevich, a Colorado Springs mother of two who intends to use Colorado’s new choice program to send her children to a private school. “It’s sad that our schools are jeopardizing our children’s education for bureaucracy.”

Colorado’s Opportunity Contracts program is the nation’s newest statewide choice program. Opportunity Contracts are targeted to low-income students in the 11 districts with “low” or “unsatisfactory” ratings on the State’s annual academic performance ratings.

“Colorado’s low-income families finally will be set free from demonstrably failing schools and empowered to choose the best education for their children,” said Robert Freedman, Institute for Justice attorney.

In addition to helping win a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court for parental choice when it represented parents participating in Cleveland’s school choice program, IJ also successfully defended vouchers in Milwaukee and tax credits in Illinois and Arizona. IJ is currently defending Florida’s groundbreaking Opportunity Scholarships program and is fighting state-based barriers to choice in Maine and Vermont.