moot point

The Douglas County voucher case is finally over

The Douglas County school board on Monday voted to end the district's voucher program and directed the district to seek an end to the protracted legal case. (Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Elections have consequences, and this week the Colorado Supreme Court delivered on one: Years of litigation over Douglas County’s private-school voucher program are officially over.

In practical terms, the Douglas County School Board already made this decision in December, when new members elected on an anti-voucher platform voted unanimously to end the controversial program. On Thursday, the Colorado Supreme Court dismissed Taxpayers for Public Education vs. Douglas County School District as moot at the request of both parties.

The Douglas County Choice Scholarship program was created in 2011 but put on hold by the courts before families could take advantage of it. The Colorado Supreme Court had previously ruled that the program violated the state constitution. Then, the United States Supreme Court ordered the Colorado Supreme Court to revisit the case in June 2017 after ruling in favor of a church-run preschool in Missouri in a case that raised similar legal questions.

Missouri and Colorado both have so-called Blaine Amendments that prohibit state tax dollars from aiding religious practices. In the Missouri case, the high court found that the state must allow churches to participate in state programs when the benefit meets a secular need. If the Douglas County case had been reheard, it likely would have revolved around the ways classroom instruction in a religious school is similar to or different than infrastructure issues like paving a playground.

“We are very pleased with the court’s decision and that the misuse of public school funds to pay for private education in Douglas County is over,” said Taxpayers for Public Education President Cindy Barnard, the lead plaintiff in the case, in a press release about the decision. “The dismissal of the appeal, together with the election of a new anti-voucher slate of school board members in the Douglas County School District, ensures that the district’s focus will now turn to using public dollars to strengthen public schools.”

The ruling also vacates all previous rulings in the case by the state Supreme Court and lower courts.

“We are thankful to finally put this behind us and be able to put our focus on the real priorities facing this school district,” School Board President David Ray said in a press release.

Ross Izard, director of policy for ACE Scholarships, which provides private school scholarships for children from low-income families, noted on Facebook that there was “something poetic” about the case being dismissed during National School Choice Week.

“While anti-choice activists celebrate the ‘victory’ of getting dismissed the constitutionally incorrect case they launched, tens of thousands of people in thousands of communities around the country are celebrating the rapid expansion of educational opportunity,” he wrote. “Which side is winning?”

 

Day without a Teacher

These Colorado school districts are canceling classes for teacher protests

Empty Chairs And Desks In Classroom (Getty Images)

Thousands of Colorado teachers are expected to descend on the state Capitol Thursday and Friday to call on lawmakers to make a long-term commitment to increasing K-12 education funding.

These Colorado districts have announced they’re canceling classes because they won’t have enough teachers and other staff on hand to safely have students in their buildings. They include eight of the state’s 10 largest districts, serving more than 400,000 students.

Some charter schools, including DSST and STRIVE Prep, are joining the teacher demonstrations, and others are not. Parents whose children attend charter schools in these districts should check with the school.

Unless otherwise noted, classes are canceled for the entire day on Friday, April 27.

  • Jeffco Public Schools, serving 86,100 students (classes canceled Thursday, April 26)
  • Denver Public Schools, serving 92,600 students (early dismissal scheduled for Friday, April 27)
  • Douglas County School District, serving 67,500 students
  • Cherry Creek School District, serving 55,600 students
  • Adams 12 Five Star Schools, serving 38,900 students
  • St. Vrain Valley School District, serving 32,400 students
  • Poudre School District, serving 30,000 students
  • Colorado Springs School District 11, serving 27,400 students
  • Thompson School District, serving 16,200 students

Teachers who miss work to engage in political activity generally have to take a personal day to do so.

This list will be updated as we hear from more districts.

Future of Schools

Indiana lawmakers are bringing back a plan to expand takeover for Gary and Muncie schools

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos

It’s official: Lawmakers are planning to re-introduce a controversial plan to expand state takeover of the Gary and Muncie school districts when they come back May 14 for a one-day special session.

Indiana Republican leaders said they believe the plan, which would give control of Muncie schools to Ball State University and strip power from the Gary school board, creates opportunities for both districts to get on the right track after years of poor decision-making around finances.

“Two state entities year after year ignored requests from the legislature to get their fiscal health in order,” said Senate President David Long. “We understand there’s going to be some politics associated with it.”

But Indiana Democrats strongly oppose the takeovers, and House Minority Leader Terry Goodin, a Democrat from Austin, said bringing back the “heinous” takeover plan is too complicated to be dealt with in one day. Democrats had cheered when the bill unceremoniously died last month after lawmakers ran out of time during the regular session and lambasted Republican for calling for an extension to revisit it.

“This is not a thing that can be idly approved without full consideration,” Goodin said. “Because you are talking about the latest step to take the education of our children out of the hands of local school boards and parents and placing it under the control of Big Brother.”

But lawmakers’ push to expand district takeovers come as the state’s education officials are stepping back from taking control of individual schools. In this case, as with last year’s unprecedented bill that took over Gary schools, finances appear to be the driving motivation behind lawmakers’ actions, not academics. Typically, state takeover of schools has come as a consequence for years of failing state letter grades.

Gary schools have struggled for decades to deal with declining enrollment, poor financial management and poor academic performance. Although the Muncie district hasn’t seen the same kind of academic problems, it has been sharply criticized for mishandling a $10 million bond issue.

“All I had to hear is that a $10 million capital bond was used for operating expenses,” House Speaker Brian Bosma said, since those funds are intended to make improvements to buildings. “Fiscal irresponsibility is paramount, but also fiscal irresponsibility translates to educational irresponsibility as well.”

Bosma said that Ball State and Gary officials were on board with resurrecting House Bill 1315. Another part of the bill would develop an early warning system to identify districts in financial trouble.

The provisions in the bill would only apply to public school districts, but other types of schools, including online charter schools and private schools accepting taxpayer-funded vouchers, have had recent financial situations that have raised serious questions and even led to closure.

Bosma said those schools have their own fiscal accountability systems in place, but recent attempts to close gaps in state charter law and have private schools with voucher students submit annual reports to the state have gone mostly nowhere.

Both Bosma and Long said their plan to reconsider five bills during the special session, including House Bill 1315, had passed muster withGov. Eric Holcomb. But district takeover was not mentioned in Friday’s statement from Holcomb, nor did he say it was one of the urgent issues lawmakers should take up when he spoke to reporters in mid-March.

Instead, he reiterated his support for getting a $12 million loan from the state’s Common School Fund for Muncie schools and directing $10 million over the next two years to the state’s Secured School Fund. The money would allow districts to request dollars for new and improved school safety equipment and building improvements.