(Promoted by Colorado Pols)
POLS UPDATE: Statement from the ACLU of Colorado:
“Parents are free to send their children to private religious schools if they wish, but the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed today that taxpayers should not be forced to pay for it,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein.
Counsel for Petitioners, Matt Douglas, said that: “The court made clear that this type of program violates the plain language of the Colorado Constitution, and rejected the argument that temporarily passing the money through the hands of parents could avoid this specific prohibition.”
The program provided 500 students with vouchers worth about $4,600, which could be spent on tuition at religious and other private schools. In order to obtain per-pupil educational funds from the state, Douglas County classified these children as “public school students” who attended a charter school that did not actually exist.
In reality, the voucher money was spent at district-approved “Private School Partners,” a collection of private schools. According to the Court, 16 of the 23 approved Private School Partners were sectarian. The court found that this violated the “broad, unequivocal language forbidding the State from using public money to fund religious schools.”
“The Colorado Constitution provides very strong safeguards for the separation of church and state, and today’s decision preserves and honors those protections,” said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
The Colorado Supreme Court has determined that a Douglas County School District program that provided vouchers for district students to attend religious schools violates the State Constitution in a manner that is not pre-empted by federal law or the United States Constitution. The trial court had come to the same conclusion, but was overruled by the Colorado Court of Appeals. This decision reinstates the trial court’s permanent injunction of the practice.
Article IX (Education), Section 7 of Colorado’s state constitution, which has been effective since August 1, 1876, states:
Aid to private schools, churches, sectarian purpose, forbidden
Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation, or pay from any public fund or moneys whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian society, or for any sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever; nor shall any grant or donation of land, money or other personal property, ever be made by the state, or any such public corporation to any church, or for any sectarian purpose.
The Douglas County School Board adopted the program after a partisan Republican takeover of the non-partisan school board, as part of a group of controversial reforms in the district.