In a momentous move in March of this year, a Colorado school board voted to implement its first private school choice program. The program allows up to 500 children in Douglas County to attend a private school of their choice.
Now, hundreds of students are being blocked from receiving these scholarships due to the decision of a state district judge from Denver to halt the voucher program, claiming that it violates the state constitution. The county school board is planning to appeal the decision.
John Carson, president of the Douglas County Board of Education, stated:
We believe that allowing parents to choose the best school setting for their children from a wide variety of options leads to maximum student success. The court’s ruling today limits the opportunity for Douglas County parents to determine the best school fit for their children.
The judge’s decision is the result of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union that claims that the program violates the law by providing public money to religious organizations.
Such a claim is not the first of its kind. In typical statist fashion, these claims are born from a philosophy that holds that the money you earn is in fact not yours to keep but instead belongs to the state. But luckily for the children in Colorado and their parents, other courts have upheld the merits of school choice in previous cases. As George Will noted in the Hartford Courant:
In 2002, the Supreme Court, considering an Ohio program legally indistinguishable from Douglas County’s, said the Constitution is not violated by a scholarship plan that is “neutral with respect to religion” and involves parents directing government aid to schools by their “own genuine and independent private choice.” The Wisconsin Supreme Court, ruling on a similar school choice program in Milwaukee, cited the U.S. Supreme Court: “The crucial question is not whether some benefit accrues to a religious institution as a consequence of the legislative program, but whether its principal or primary effect advances religion.”
As defendants in the Douglas County case reported in their filings: “The district plays no role in this but rather leaves it entirely up to families to select partner schools.”
Just two weeks ago, Indiana courts upheld the state’s newly created school choice program, which had come under similar attack. An Indiana Superior Court Judge, Michael Keele, affirmed that the program “was enacted ‘for the benefit’ of students, not religious institutions or activities.” He further noted that the program “permits taxpayer funds to be paid to religious schools only upon the private individual choices of parents.”
Rather than dictating where taxpayers’ education dollars go, school choice allows parents to use their dollars to send a child to a school of their choice. It gives families the power to make the educational choice that’s in the best interest of their child instead of assigning kids to public schools based on their zip codes.
In 2011, more states than in any previous year have moved to bring school choice to families. Douglas County’s program is one of many victories this year to expand education opportunities, and mistaken judges should end their blockage of the schoolhouse door.