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School-vouchers program blocked

Douglas County expected to appeal ruling

DENVER – A school-voucher program in suburban Denver violates the Colorado Constitution because it provides funding for students to attend religious schools, the state’s Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The ruling reverses a Colorado Court of Appeals decision upholding Douglas County’s voucher program. The justices directed the case back to Denver District Court so that an order permanently blocking the program can be reinstated.

The school district is still reviewing the ruling, but officials expect to appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed by parents and groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and Taxpayers for Public Education. They said the Choice Scholarship Program vouchers violate state constitutional provisions barring the use of taxpayer money to fund religious schools.

The Douglas County initiative offered up to 500 students about $4,600 each in state money for tuition at 23 private schools, including 16 religious ones.

“Parents are free to send their children to private religious schools if they wish, but the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed today that taxpayers should not be forced to pay for it,” ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein said.

Supporters contend that the vouchers simply provide parents a choice of where to send their children to school and do not divert any money away from public schools.

During arguments before the Colorado Supreme Court in December, one of the attorneys representing the school district, Michael Bindas, said the rights of parents who want a religious education for their children was at issue.

“The equal-protection clause prohibits government from making it more difficult for one class of citizens than from all others to seek aid from the government,” he said.

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