Colorado Court: Use Of Public Funds For Private Schools Is UNCONSTITUTIONAL

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Colorado Supreme Court Voucher Ruling

Colorado has taken a stand against the awful practice of handing public funds to private, religious schools in a huge way. The state’s Supreme Court struck down a voucher program on Monday that allowed parents in a conservative school district to siphon money away from actual educational endeavors to send their children to private schools.

The New York Times reports:

The split decision to throw out the voucher program in Douglas County, Colorado’s third-largest school district, was a blow to conservative education advocates and those who want to redefine public education to funnel tax dollars directly to families who then choose the type of schooling they want for their children.

The state’s Supreme Court ruled against the district’s voucher program, which was passed in 2011, saying it violated a plank of the State Constitution that explicitly prevents public money from going to schools “controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever.”

“This stark constitutional provision makes one thing clear,” Colorado chief justice Nancy E. Rice wrote in the court’s opinion. “A school district may not aid religious schools.”

While some may argue that not all private schools are religious — and this certainly is true — Americans United for Separation of Church and State notes that the U.S. Department of Education reports 76 percent of private schools have a religious affiliation, and more than 80 percent of students who attend private schools are enrolled in religious institutions. The organization said in a 2011 post:

“Most of these religious schools seek to indoctrinate as well as educate. They integrate religion throughout their curriculum and often require all students to receive religious instruction and attend religious services. Thus, there is no way to prevent publicly funded vouchers from paying for these institutions’ religious activities and education.”

Americans United for Separation of Church and state goes on to point out that, despite claims that voucher programs simply offer more choices to parents, many of these schools teach pseudoscience and distort facts in their efforts to indoctrinate students:

Fundamentalist Christian academies have been growing in number. Many of these schools offer education far outside the mainstream. They teach creationism in lieu of evolution, offer a discredited “Christian nation” approach to American history and put forth controversial ideas about other religions, the role of women in society, gay rights and other issues. These schools may legally teach this way, but taxpayers should not be expected to pay for it.

This problem certainly exists in Colorado. Front Range Christian School in Littleton, Colorado (parts of Littleton are in Douglas County, but the school is in Jefferson), for example, promises that “the Genesis account of creation is stressed”:

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The ruling not only will prevent the Douglas County school district from issuing vouchers to families so their precious little snowflakes can be sent to private schools, but will stop other school districts from starting their own voucher programs. While this ruling also affects nonreligious private schools, the majority of students attend public schools — so the money is better spent on the public education system.

School officials in Douglas County have promised to appeal the case to the Supreme Court — the same court that has recently been making conservatives weep uncontrollably by siding with proponents of marriage equality, upholding Obamacare, and other decisions conservatives oppose.

The Times reports that 70 percent of the schools approved through Douglas County’s Choice Scholarship Pilot Program are religious in nature:

Douglas County’s voucher program, called the Choice Scholarship Pilot Program, created 500 scholarships of about $4,570 each. The funds could have gone to any of 23 district-approved “private school partners” — 16 of which were religious.

The vouchers were at the heart of a series of conservative reforms that have transformed Douglas County into an educational battleground in recent years, pitting teachers’ unions, civil liberties groups and liberal parents against conservative families, a majority conservative school board and a group backed by the billionaire conservative Koch brothers.

In addition to vouchers, Douglas County’s school board has embraced merit-based teacher pay and charter schools. Conservative supporters say the policies have put the district in the vanguard of school reforms. Opponents say the efforts are chipping away at pillars of public education and have made Douglas County a hostile place for teachers.

Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association (the state’s largest teachers’ union), celebrated this news:

“We’re incredibly gratified that the state’s Supreme Court recognized that public dollars should stay in public schools.”

“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,” Colorado ACLU legal director Mark Silverstein said in a statement.

Though the decision affects religious and nonreligious schools equally, conservatives are not giving up with their “religious persecution” narrative. “The question now is whether a state can specifically target and exclude” religious schools from receiving taxpayer money, said Michael Bendis, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represented parents seeking  to siphon off taxpayer money to indoctrinate their children.

The Right is scared. Narratives are crashing and burning, the People are repeatedly rejecting their hateful, bigoted, and stupid viewpoints, and they are losing on nearly every “battlefield.”

It feels good to be an American.

Reprinted with permission from Addicting Info

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