Institute for Justice Will File To Intervene In New Colorado School Choice Case

John Kramer
John Kramer · June 21, 2011

Arlington, Va.
—The Institute for Justice—the nation’s leading legal advocate for school choice that has litigated every major school choice case in the nation, including the 2004 Colorado Opportunity Contract Pilot Program—announced today that it will move to intervene on behalf of families from Douglas County, Colo., in defense of the school choice program that was challenged today by school choice foes. The ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado have filed suit to limit parental choice in education.

“The Institute for Justice will move to intervene in the coming days on behalf of Douglas County parents and children to defend this choice program from legal attack,” said IJ Senior Attorney Michael Bindas. “IJ has defended school choice programs from legal attack every single day from the time we opened our doors 20 years ago. We know what it takes to make a school choice program constitutional, and there is no question the program passed in Douglas County will pass constitutional muster.”

Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice said, “The Douglas County school choice program is about education, and giving parents and kids the widest educational options possible to meet their educational needs; those with a political ax to grind have tried to make this about religion, but this is a well-crafted program that will withstand any close scrutiny in that regard.”

IJ Senior Attorney Dick Komer said, “This challenge to Douglas County’s innovative program will fail for one principal reason: it is parents—and not government officials—who are deciding what school a child attends. No educational money will be spent at any school through this program—be it secular or religious—without a parent making that free and independent choice. The provision of the Colorado Constitution on which the opponents of school choice rely has already been interpreted by the Colorado Supreme Court and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to permit Colorado students to use state-provided financial assistance at religious schools, so long as the program is religiously neutral (meaning it doesn’t favor or disfavor religion) and the choice is made by the students and their families. Those who challenge school choice always disparage the key role played by the parents in selecting the schools their children will attend, but the Institute for Justice will defend the parents’ rights to choose the best available education for their children.”

The Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program is a local school choice program adopted by the Douglas County Board of Education on March 16, 2011, to “provide greater educational choice for students and parents to meet individualized student needs.” The scholarship program operates in a simple and straightforward manner by providing private school tuition scholarships for up to 500 eligible students. A student may use the scholarship to attend any private school that participates in the program and by which he or she is accepted.

To be eligible for a scholarship, a student must be a resident of the Douglas County school district and have attended a district school for no less than one year. Scholarships are capped at the lesser of: (a) the actual cost of tuition at the private school the student chooses to attend; or (b) 75 percent of the per pupil revenue allocated under state law, which is $4,575 for the 2011-12 school year. The scholarship program is established as a one-year pilot program but is annually renewable at the board of education’s discretion. Scholarship recipients are eligible for consecutive yearly participation for the duration of the program.

The Institute for Justice has a long history of successfully defending school choice from legal attacks. IJ represented intervening parents in the successful defense of:

  • Arizona’s Individual Scholarship Tax Credit Program, Ariz. Christian Sch. Tuition Org. v. Winn;
  • Ohio’s Pilot Scholarship Program, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris;
  • Arizona’s Tuition Scholarship Tax Credit Program, Kotterman v. Killian;
  • Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program, Jackson v. Benson;
  • Arizona’s Corporate Scholarship Tax Credit Program, Green v. Garriott; and
  • Illinois’ Educational Expenses Tax Credit Program, Toney v. Bower.

The Institute for Justice also represented intervening parents to defend the Colorado Opportunity Contract Pilot Program.