Reject School Voucher Scheme, AU Advises Colorado Public School

A Colorado public school system is considering adopting a voucher plan that would give parents a check to pay for tuition at a religious or other private school.

Proponents of the idea at the Douglas County School District say the check would be worth 75 percent of the $6,542 in public per-pupil funding that comes from state and local taxes. The remaining 25 percent would go to the district.

The plan drew a mixed reaction from residents. The Denver Post reported that a large crowd gathered at the school district’s meeting room in November to voice opinions. Attendees were split on whether they approved of the plan, and the board claims it is a long way from making a decision.

Americans United’s legislative department weighed in with a letter to school board members, urging them to oppose the proposal, which is called the Option Certificate Program (OCP).

AU’s letter points out that the proposed scheme will allow public funds to pay for religious activities and instruction and thus raises constitutional issues.

In addition, American United said, the OCP does not prohibit students who live in the school district but already attend private schools from enrolling in the public schools in order to a obtain a voucher.

“[I]t seems logical that most, if not all, of current private-school students will seek the subsidy to attend their current religious schools at reduced cost to their families,” AU’s letter asserts.

“As a result, thousands of new students will be added to the District’s rolls, increasing education costs for the State.

“Essentially,” the letter continues, “the program would take a great deal of money from all Colorado taxpayers, including those in Douglas County, to pay for the vouchers and for the increased funding for the District itself. This seems like an irresponsible way to increase funding for the District.”

The district apparently got the idea from Eric Hall, a Colorado Springs attorney known for his advocacy of charter schools. Free Range Longmont, a Colorado online publication, reported that Hall has served as general counsel to a number of charter schools in the state.

Vouchers face something of an uphill battle in the state. In 2004, the state’s Supreme Court struck down a statewide voucher program and voters overwhelmingly opposed a voucher referendum on the ballot in 1992, 67 percent to 33 percent