Douglas County voucher plan gives public funds to discriminatory religious schools, suit claims

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Update below: A lawsuit filed this morning in Denver District Court challenges the legality of a Douglas County voucher program set to go into effect this fall partly on the grounds that it diverts public money to religious institutions. Yet plaintiffs include the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado and reps of B'nai Chaim Congregation in Morrison and Parker's United Church of Christ. Read the suit below.

As reported by Education News Colorado, the lead plaintiff is James LaRue, who's both the father of a DougCo student and director of the county's public libraries. But there's plenty of firepower behind him, including three main sponsors -- the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Colorado and Americans United for Separation of Church and State -- joined by the aforementioned Interfaith Alliance, which incorporates members from nineteen faiths. The suit's targets include the Colorado Board of Education and the DougCo school district and board.

Here's an excerpt from the suit, which sums up the document's main arguments:

The Program, enacted by the Douglas County Board of Education on March 15, 2011, takes public funds provided by the State of Colorado -- which are required by law to be spent on public schools -- and uses them to pay for tuition at private schools. The vast majority of these private schools are religious, are controlled by churches or other religious institutions, and discriminate in both employment and admissions on the basis of religion. Many of them require students to receive religious instruction and attend religious worship services...

In diverting millions of dollars in public funds intended solely for public education to instead finance overtly religious and private education, the Douglas County School District also cedes control over this education to the private-school aid recipients, resulting in a taxpayer-funded education that deviates substantially from the legal standards and requirements governing the public education provided by the District itself. The private schools participating in the Program are not controlled or directed by any local board of education or elected directors, and the education they provide differs in material respects from the District's -- including, among others, teacher certification, background, educational goals, curriculum, and approved textbooks.

The suit calls for a temporary injunction to stop the voucher plan, which the DougCo school board approved unanimously in March.

Update, 1:46 p.m. June 21: The Douglas County School District has released the following statement about the lawsuit:

"The Douglas County School District is aware of the ACLU's lawsuit regarding the Choice Scholarship Program. This program is just one of many Choice programs available to Douglas County students. We continue to believe every student should be empowered to find their best educational fit, whether it is at one of our neighborhood schools, charter schools, or at one of our private-partner schools. We intentionally built this plan to include rigorous accountability measures that ensure a quality education for all students. Our District has a tradition of innovation and excellence -- we will always provide opportunities that are in the best interests of our students."

Look below to see a pair of Education News Colorado videos -- the first from a November meeting, the second dating around the time of the plan's passage -- as well as the aforementioned lawsuit.

James Larue Versus Colorado Complaint

More from our Education archive: "North High: DPS asks Colorado Department of Education to investigate credit recovery."

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