Legal Update: Answer Briefs and Amicus Curiae filed on July 13, 2012
The answer briefs have been filed in the Court of Appeals! Taxpayers for Public Education and the Larue Plaintiffs have each filed a brief. And more good news: our efforts have been joined by several national organizations who have filed friend of the court briefs opposing the voucher program. The American Association of School Administrators, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Federation of Teachers all filed briefs asking the Court to uphold the decision striking down the voucher program.
The TFPE brief asks that the Court of Appeals confirm the trial court’s decision to enjoin the voucher program because the program’s diversion of public school monies into private schools is illegal and unconstitutional. The use of public school monies to fund private education violates the Colorado Public School Finance Act (which expressly reserved those monies for “public education”), Article IX, Section 3 of the Colorado Constitution (which requires that money from the Public School Fund be expended only for maintenance of the State’s public schools), Article IX, Section 2 of the Colorado Constitution (which requires the establishment of “a thorough and uniform system of free public schools” where students “may be educated gratuitously;” but the voucher program permits non-uniform standards and requirements and requires students to pay portions of their own private school tuition), and Article IX, Section 15 of the Colorado Constitution (which requires school districts to have “control of instruction” in their local districts, but the voucher program transfers DCSD’s control of both instruction and spending to private schools).
The Larue brief affirms that the District Court correctly concluded that the Voucher Program violates the following provisions of the Colorado Constitution, in the following ways: Article IX, Section 7, by using public funds to aid religious organizations and schools controlled by such organizations; Article II, Section 4, by compelling support and attendance at religious services; Article IX, Section 8, by requiring public school students to take religious oaths as conditions of admission, discriminating among students on the basis of religious beliefs, and teaching religious tenets; and Article V, Section 34, by appropriating public funds to institutions not under the absolute control of the state.
The Anti-Defamation League brief points out that the Colorado Constitution clearly and unequivocally forbids state and local governments from using public money to support religious institutions and religious schools in particular. These constitutional provisions have been further supplemented with statutory laws that prohibit state-funded institutions from discriminating based on religion, sexual orientation, and disability, among other protected characteristics. In violation of these prohibitions, the DCSD voucher program disbursed funds received from the State of Colorado – given to it for the express purpose of providing a free, public education to Douglas County students – to private religious institutions that intentionally discriminate in admission based on religion and other protected characteristics.
The brief filed by the American Association of School Administrators and the American Federation of Teachers argues that the District Court decision should be upheld because the voucher program does not increase choice, preserve DCSD resources or improve student achievement. Unlike voucher programs elsewhere in the U.S., the primary purpose of the DCSD voucher program is “choice” solely for the sake of “choice”; but the voucher program will not increase choice for the vast majority of DCSD students. In addition, the voucher program: will not save DCSD money; would divert education funding from students in DCSD and other districts; subsidizes private education for students who would have attended private school anyway; and will not improve education in Douglas County.