Is the Choice Scholarship Program Legal? The answer is yes.

— from the Douglas County School District website (http://www.dcsdk12.org/portal/page/portal/DCSD)

Over the weekend, the Denver Post printed an editorial questioning the constitutional legitimacy of Douglas County School District’s Choice Scholarship Pilot Program.

The Douglas County School Board and the District’s administration believes strongly that the scholarship program is legal and plan to fight the challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Taxpayers for Public Education.

DCSD believes it is crucial to provide each and every student with the opportunity to find the educational niche that will help him or her learn best. The District embraces school choice by offering a wide variety of pathways to learning, including scholarships to private-partner schools that contract with and meet all DCSD conditions of eligibility, but also neighborhood schools, magnet, charter, online, home education and contract schools.

When DCSD created the Choice Scholarship Pilot Program it did so with great thought, extensive research and consideration. The District studied programs that have worked in other parts of the country, as well as here in Colorado.

Colorado Christian University v. Weaver
In 2008, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the state did not have an interest in discriminating against religious schools when providing student financial aid for higher education. The court ruled, despite Article 9, Section 7 of the Colorado Constitution, the financial aid could be used for any educational institution, regardless of any religious affiliation.

There are also several examples in which the United States Supreme Court has found scholarship programs, like Douglas County’s, constitutional:
Pell Grant
The federal government provides funding for students who need help paying for college. Students are allowed to apply this money to religious schools, such as Notre Dame, without violating the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
In 2002 the Supreme Court ruled that the Cleveland City School District did not violate the Establishment Clause, because the vouchers go directly to the parents, making it their choice as to how to direct the money. This breaks the link between government action and the aid of a religious institution.
The Supreme Court of Wisconsin ruled in 1998 that an expanded Milwaukee voucher program that would allow students to attend any religious or other private school, does not violate the Wisconsin or the U.S. Constitutions. That verdict was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but on November 9, 1998 the justices of the Supreme Court announced they would not hear the appeal, allowing the verdict of the Wisconsin Supreme Court to stand.

Choice Scholarship Pilot Program
DCSD’s Choice Scholarship Pilot Program fits within the guidelines created by the Colorado and U.S. Supreme Court rulings. Simply, the District is providing scholarships to families, not to the private schools that are partners in the program; the scholarships may go to any private-school which meets the District’s requirements, regardless of their religious affiliation; and the program is open to any student in Douglas County.
The District not only believes the program is legal, but most importantly: it is in the best interest of our students.
Douglas County School District is committed to providing factual information about its programs and will continue to work to correct any misinformation.

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