by Jack Minor —
In a ruling that critics say will harm needy children, a Denver District Court judge has blocked Douglas County’s implementation of a scholarship program that would allow parents to send their children to the school of their choice.
In the ruling, Judge Michael Martinez said that the rights of individuals opposed to the plan take precedence over disadvantaged and other kids having the ability to attend a school that can serve their needs. “Threatened Constitutional injuries to plaintiffs, and the other residents of Douglas County they represent, outweighs the threatened harm the injunction may inflict on… the students and families selected for participation in the Scholarship Program.” Martinez went on to say that school districts do not have “the broad authority to contract with private schools for the provision of a public education to public school students.”
The ruling prevents the program from continuing until an actual ruling can be made on the constitutionality of the program.
The program would provide up to 500 scholarships to parents, who could then use them to send their children to a school of their choice. The scholarship amount was capped at 75 percent of the per pupil revenue for the county, or the cost of tuition at a private school, whichever is less. The cap for the 2011-2012 school year is $4,575.
The board estimated the program would actually save the district money. The voucher scholarship cost will be $2.29 million, but when CSAP and other expenses associated with having 500 fewer students are figured in, the district stood to have a net savings of over $400,000.
The Independence Institute, a Colorado Libertarian think tank, acknowledged the ruling was a setback, but said it was not the final word on the subject.
“While today’s ruling is unexpected and disappointing, the fight certainly isn’t over,” said Education Policy Center director Pam Benigno. “Students deserve real options that best suit their needs. I believe the humble courage of Douglas County leaders will be vindicated in the end.”
The ruling followed three days of hearings where the ACLU asked supporters to pack the courtroom. The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State waited more than three months after the Douglas County School Board approved the plan to file the suit.
The school year has already started in many of the Douglas county schools. Additionally, the district has already made payments to many of the schools.
“Why did they wait so long to try to shut down the program?” Benigno said. “Today’s ruling is even sadder because of all the students and families whose lives have been disrupted.”