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Conflict of Interest

Supporters of Colorado's school voucher program that was set to begin next fall—before a state judge ruled the program unconstitutional—are complaining that the judge in the case should not have had the chance to put vouchers on hold.

The Latino Coalition for Children in Education, which is based in Denver, says it plans to file a complaint against Judge Joseph E. Meyer III, alleging a conflict of interest. The judge's wife is a teacher in a school district affected by his ruling and is a member of the Colorado Education Association, whose lawyers argued against the vouchers.

Scott Flores, a board member of the Latino parents' group, said he planned to file the complaint soon with the state's judicial-ethics review board on behalf of the parents' group.

"The judge should have at least disclosed it," Mr. Flores said of the union membership.

But union leaders called the criticism ridiculous.

"We had no idea that Judge Meyer had a wife, much less that she was a member," said Jeanne Beyer, a spokeswoman for the 37,000-member state union.

Teachers in Colorado aren't required to join the union, which is an affiliate of the National Education Association.

The judge's wife works in the 33,000-student system called the Adams 12 Five Star School District, named for the five Denver-area communities it serves.

Ms. Beyer said the planned complaint likely would not change the judge's December ruling that state-sponsored tuition vouchers are barred under the Colorado Constitution, which gives local boards, not the state, control over public schools ("Colo. Judge Puts State's Vouchers On Hold," Dec. 10, 2003.)

The vouchers would allow thousands of students in Colorado to use $4,500 in annual state aid to transfer into private schools, including religious schools.

Beyond the court decision and an injunction that has been upheld by Judge Meyer that keeps the vouchers on hold, and a possible appeal to the state supreme court, legislators have begun work on revisions to the controversial law, signed by Republican Gov. Bill Owens in April.

Ms. Beyer said she expects Colorado lawmakers this year to give strong consideration to legislation that would create vouchers for special education students and corporate-tax-credit scholarships for low-income families, modeled on programs that are operating in Florida.

—Alan Richard

Vol. 23, Issue 19, Page 20

Published in Print: January 21, 2004, as State Journal

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