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Not Giving Up

Colorado lawmakers are going to bat yet again for vouchers.

In the latest effort, proponents are trying to find a way to craft vouchers that won’t find them running into the same roadblock erected when a Denver state court judge declared a 2003 law signed by Gov. Bill Owens unconstitutional. ("Colo. Judge Puts State's Vouchers on Hold," Dec. 10, 2003.)

"We need to give [poor and minority children] an option to get out of failing schools and choose an environment where they can be successful," said Assemblywoman Nancy Spence, a Republican, who proposed a new voucher bill that won initial support from the House education committee in a 6-5 vote last week.

The bill was scheduled for a final reading in the House on April 23 and a review in the Senate April 26.

It would allow children from low-income families in 11 of the state’s 183 districts to apply for vouchers to private and religious schools.

Only students in low-performing districts who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and who have failed a state test would be eligible.

"I’m not entirely confident of the vote in the House yet, because there are two Republicans still on the fence," said Ms. Spence, who argues that something must be done to close the achievement gap for students at risk of academic failure.

House Bill 1442 was written to circumvent a court ruling by Denver District Court Judge Joseph E. Meyer III last December. He declared that the original voucher bill was unconstitutional because it violated the state’s local-control provision dictating that school boards maintain authority over instruction in public schools.

Arguments to an appeal are scheduled to be heard by the state supreme court on May 25.

The new bill would earmark state per-pupil funds for the plan instead of using local property-tax dollars.

Deborah Fallin, who is a spokeswoman for the Colorado Education Association, says the 37,000-member affiliate of the National Education Association will take legal action if the bill is approved.

"We are working to kill the bill," she said. "We do not believe that the state constitution [allows] or that the voters want public tax dollars to go to unaccountable private or religious schools."

Adds Assemblywoman Spence: "If 1442 fails, we’ll just wait for the supreme court ruling."

—Marianne D. Hurst

Vol. 23, Issue 33, Page 21

Published in Print: April 28, 2004, as State Journal

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