Talk about progressive. Douglas County, Colorado may soon be among the very few school districts in the United States allowing parents a choice in where their tax dollars are spent on their children’s education. The program is called the “Pilot Choice Scholarship Program” and was passed this March.
The Douglas County Education Board made just 500 scholarships available to families who wished to apply. Out of 60,000 students, only 575 families did. 75% of the 500 scholarship recipients’ public school designated tax dollars would be applied towards attendance at one of 19 Board-approved private schools in and near their county. The other 25% would remain in the public school system. In essence, the public schools would have more money to spend on a smaller population of students, benefiting them as well. Of the 100 schools the program was opened up to, only 27 applied and 19 were approved. 14 of the schools are parochial schools. Which is where the American Civil Liberties Union comes in.
While the program is self-funding, completely optional and under the terms of the agreement between the district and participating schools, children must be allowed to opt-out of any religious education offered there, the ACLU contends that the program is a violation of the state constitution by allowing state funds to be used at religious schools. This past Friday, the ACLU won it’s case against the school district and an injunction against the program was instituted, leaving many families wondering where they would go when school started up on Monday of this week.
The case will be appealed and supporters of the program are confident they will win in the end. The voters of Douglas County elected the members of the school board on the basis of implementing school choice and the board acted on their behalf. It was a courageous move, knowing they would be challenged by teacher’s unions, district employees and all those who feel threatened by allowing parents to make their own decisions about where their money is spent on their children’s education. For many of these families, the “scholarships,” paid for with their own money, were their ticket to a better education they would otherwise not be able to afford. And for others who fall into the special needs category, they were the only option for getting their children into schools better suited to their needs.
I attended the latest Douglas County School Board meeting on Tuesday night, not because I pay taxes there, or have a kid in school there, because I don’t. I went because I support these families who are trying to do what’s best for their children and because I believe it’s their right to do so.
I met Diana Oakley, whose son has Aspergers and was bullied at school, his lunch tray stolen regularly and this past spring assaulted by another child with a pair of nunchucks. I met mother of five, Melissa Grissom, who has been home-schooling her son since bullying led to an anxiety disorder. And Becky Barnes, whose son also has Aspergers and shuts down in the crowded and noisy public school environment.
The good news is, all of the schools these families chose, decided to work with them so that their children could attend as planned. In some cases, this means they are going without the funding promised until all is settled through the court system.
There are clearly two schools of thought in this debate which ultimately effects every child, not just those in Douglas County. When we pay into the public school system, who do those tax dollars belong to? Do they belong to the government to spend how they see fit? Or do they belong to families to spend how they see fit? Who knows better what’s best for their child? The government or the parents?
I side with parents.
I side with choice.
I side with liberty.
It is notable that Indiana just won a similar case for school choice on Wednesday, August 15th. Almost 3,000 students there will benefit from the “Choice Scholarship Program.” The Institute for Justice who defended the families against the teacher’s unions in Indiana, is also working tirelessly for the families here in Colorado. We celebrate Indiana’s victory with them and pray that liberty and justice will also win out in Douglas County.
To read more about this issue and the families effected, please visit:
DenverPost.com : More than 500 kids may lose in DougCo Scholarship lawsuit
MomOffTrack.com : Dougco Voucher Disaster
ColoradoMoms.com : The Dougco Debacle
OurColorado.com : The loss of a child’s scholarship, the journey of three families