Judge Blocks Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · August 15, 2011

Arlington, Va.—In a setback for the right of parents to choose the schools that are best for their children, a Denver District Court judge today enjoined Douglas County, Colorado’s, innovative Choice Scholarship Program, which provides 500 scholarships that parents can use to send their child to the private school of their choice. With public school classes in Douglas County already underway and private school classes beginning Monday morning, families with students who have received scholarships under the program must now reassess their educational plans at the last minute.

“The court’s decision is surprising given existing Colorado and U.S. Supreme Court precedent that would clearly uphold the scholarship program,” said Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice (“IJ”), which is defending the Choice Scholarship Program on behalf of three families with children who have received scholarships under it. “We are confident that the court’s attempt to rationalize away that precedent will be corrected on appeal.”

The Choice Scholarship Program is a local school choice program adopted by the Douglas County Board of Education on March 15, 2011, to “provide greater educational choice for students and parents to meet individualized student needs.” The program operates in a simple and straightforward manner, providing 500 scholarships that parents can use to send their child to any private school that participates in the program and that has accepted the child.

On June 21, 2011, the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and several Colorado organizations and taxpayers sued the school board, school district, Colorado Department of Education, and the state school board in Denver District Court to stop the program. Today’s decision concludes that the program violates state constitutional religion clauses, as well as the Public School Finance and a provision concerning the Public School Fund.

According to Bindas, “Case law is clear that a school choice program like Douglas County’s—which is religiously neutral and operates on the private and independent choice of parents—is perfectly constitutional. Today’s decision ignores that case law.”

IJ vowed to appeal the court’s decision: “The Institute for Justice will appeal today’s decision and vindicate the right of families in Douglas County and beyond to choose the schools that are best for their children,” said Bindas.