Institute for Justice and Parents Intervene to Defend Colorado School Choice Program

John Kramer
John Kramer · May 29, 2003

Washington, D.C. –A group of Colorado families who intend to use Colorado’s new parental choice program to send their children to private schools filed papers today in Denver District Court to defend the program from a legal attack by teachers’ unions and their allies. The families are represented by the Institute for Justice, the nation’s leading legal advocate for school choice.

“Nothing in Colorado’s Constitution or legal history justifies denying educational opportunity to low-income children in failing schools,” said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice. “Parents deserve a voice in this lawsuit and a choice for their children’s education.”

Colorado’s Opportunity Contract program is the nation’s first new voucher program since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld choice in Cleveland last June. 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. The Colorado lawsuit could help set a national precedent on the constitutionality of parental choice under state constitutions.

Last week, lawyers for the Colorado Education Association, the National Education Association and other special interest groups filed a lawsuit attempting to block parental choice in Colorado. The unions and their allies contend that the program violates the Colorado Constitution by using public funds to support religious institutions—even though parental choice funding supports the education of children, not institutions.

Choice opponents have used these state constitutional provisions—the so-called Blaine Amendment and the “compelled support” clause—in similar challenges to school 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 Blaine Amendments’ “shameful pedigree” as a legacy of long-past anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant discrimination.

“It’s appalling that the unions and their allies resort to remnants of religious bigotry to deny educational freedom to Colorado parents,” added Mellor.

“A good education is important for my children to succeed in life,” said Yvonne Trujillo, a Denver mother who intends to use Opportunity Contracts to send her son Jacob Rodriguez and daughter Kaitlyn Rodriguez to the Catholic school she attended as a child. “My son needs more attention than he receives in his public school, and I know that the private school with smaller classes can give him the hands-on instruction he needs.”

IJ represents 12 Colorado families in its defense of Opportunity Contracts. Six of the families are from Colorado Springs, and six from Denver—all hope to use Opportunity Contracts to secure a better education for their children than they currently receive.

“My children’s educational needs are not being met,” said Charlene Howard, whose two sons, Charles and Carson, attend public schools in Colorado Springs. Howard plans to send her children to private schools with the Opportunity Contract program. “It’s our money as taxpayers, it should be our choice where we spend it.”

“School choice programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Florida are empowering parents to ensure their children receive a quality education—Colorado parents deserve nothing less,” concluded Mellor.

In addition to helping win a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court for school 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.