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Colorado’s school voucher battle heats up again as DougCo case gets a new lease on life

Author: Dan Njegomir - June 27, 2017 - Updated: June 27, 2017

Litigants debate Douglas County’s school-voucher program before the Colorado Supreme Court in December 2014. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

It has been two years since the Colorado Supreme Court said “no” to a Douglas County School District voucher program that would have defrayed the cost of private-school tuition — including at parochial schools — for parents who sought that alternative. The court’s majority held that the state constitution included, “broad, unequivocal language forbidding the State from using public money to fund religious schools.”

In the wake of Monday’s Trinity Lutheran v. Comer decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, however, times could be a changin’. Maybe. After ruling in Trinity Lutheran that churches could not be excluded from a Missouri state grant program that funds playgrounds for charitable organizations, the nation’s highest court this morning ordered Colorado’s highest court to take another look at the Douglas County voucher case.

The Denver-based, libertarian-leaning Independence Institute, a longtime champion of school vouchers, explains in a press release today that the U.S. Supreme Court:

… issued a grant, vacate, and remand (GVR) order in the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program case. In essence, this order sends the case back to the Colorado Supreme Court for reconsideration in light of yesterday’s Trinity Lutheran v. Comer decision. It is not immediately clear how the new decision will alter the calculus used in the Colorado Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling against the Choice Scholarship Program. But it is clear that Colorado has a second chance to consider this important issue.

At issue in the DougCo case is a clause in the constitutions of many states including Colorado’s that explicitly bars any kind of public funding to religious schools. Commonly called Blaine Amendments after the 19th-century political figure from Maine who championed them, the provisions now are widely regarded as having been intended to target — and curb — then-proliferating Catholic schools and the immigrant communities they served. Some states have repealed their Blaine Amendments.

Of the Trinity ruling, Independence’s education policy shop notes in the press release:

… Though that ruling did not explicitly address discriminatory state constitutional Blaine clauses as they relate to private school choice programs, it did send a strong signal that the high court is not inclined to tolerate religious discrimination in the realm of public benefit programs. It was a decidedly positive step in the march to open the doors of opportunity to all American students.


Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is a blogger and opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.