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?”