Supporters of school choice closely followed events in Douglas County, Colorado because it was there that the only school district in the nation implemented vouchers by itself rather than by a state legislature (“Douglas County school board ends controversial voucher program,” The Denver Post, Dec. 4). But much to their dismay, voters elected a new anti-voucher board majority in November.
Although I support parental choice, I believe voters did the right thing. I say that because the Colorado Constitution explicitly prohibits public money going to religious schools. It’s why the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the Douglas County program was unconstitutional. Nevertheless, in June the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Colorado high court to reconsider. But it was not until the recent election that voters made their voice heard.
I’m not a lawyer, but the language in the Colorado Constitution is unambiguous. I never understood how the Douglas County school board could violate what it swore to uphold. Critics will argue that there is a difference between the religious character of a school and the religious use of funds (“Narrow Opening for School Choice,” Education Next, Winter 2018). I don’t agree. I think the two are inextricably tied together. I’m glad the new board rectified matters, but the issue of vouchers and their variants is far from settled. I expect to see the matter raised elsewhere.
For example, elementary and secondary education savings account programs are already in place in four states. Parents withdraw their children from public schools and sign contracts agreeing not to re-enroll them there while using the accounts. The state deposits most or all of the formula funding it would normally have spent into the students’ ESAs. Most programs allow parents to use a dedicated-use debit card to pay for authorized expenses, including private and religious schools.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.