Reaction to DougCo board’s voucher decision falls along ideological lines

Author: Marianne Goodland - December 5, 2017 - Updated: December 8, 2017

Residents hold placards as they wait to speak during a Douglas County School Board meeting Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, in Castle Rock, Colo. A new anti-voucher majority on the board was set to eliminate a program enacted by an earlier conservative-dominated board to help public school students attend secular and religious schools with taxpayer-funded vouchers. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Conservatives overnight Monday and into Tuesday made it clear: The decision by the Douglas County board of education to end its Choice Scholarship program was a setback for those who support educational choice.

But those who supported the decision were also out in force Monday night and into Tuesday on social media.

The board voted unanimously, 6-0, to cancel the controversial voucher program and a second program that also never got underway, as well as to direct the district’s lawyers to end the legal fight that has kept the Choice Scholarship program tied up in the courts for the past six years.

The Choice program would have given up to 500 Douglas County students who have been enrolled in county public schools for one year a voucher, valued at around $5,000. That voucher could go to private schools, religious or secular, including schools not located in Douglas County.

The Choice program, authorized by a conservative majority board in March 2011, never went into effect. Within three months, Taxpayers for Public Education obtained an injunction from a Denver District Court judge blocking its implementation. Appeals took the lawsuit to the Colorado Supreme Court, which ruled the program unconstitutional, and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last June, after ruling on a program from Missouri based on the same legal argument as Douglas County, the nation’s highest court sent the case back to the Colorado Supreme Court to reconsider its decision. The appeal was going through another round of briefs, with one due from the district on Dec. 18.

Once the first program was tied up in the courts, the board tried again last year, launching the School Choice grant program, which would also provide vouchers, but only to secular schools. That earned the district two more lawsuits; another from Taxpayers for Public Education, and a lawsuit from an organization of religious schools claiming discrimination based on religious beliefs. That program also came under a district court injunction.

But Monday night belonged to those who had waited six years to see the original voucher program dismantled, and to those who bemoaned the program’s end.

Within 40 minutes of the board’s decision to rescind the program, Americans for Prosperity-Colorado issued a statement decrying the unanimous vote.

Jesse Mallory, AFP-Colorado’s state director, called the board’s action “disappointing although not surprising” and “a short-sighted decision over providing children with more opportunities for success. Since it’s (sic) introduction, this program has been met with such stiff resistance by the teachers unions and special interests. The Board owes those students an explanation as to why they are limiting their educational opportunities in favor of the status quo.”

Jim Earley, a parent and public school advocate in Jefferson County, shot back via Twitter that parents are a special interest group, and so are their kids.

George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District and a candidate for attorney general, predicted, without evidence, that the board would also bring back the union and end teacher performance standards.

The assertion has already partially been refuted by DougCo Board President David Ray, who told Colorado Politics a week ago that there was no interest in bringing back collective bargaining with the Douglas County Federation of Teachers. That relationship between the district and the union ended in 2012 when the then-conservative reform majority board ended the collective bargaining agreement. Most teachers now must negotiate their employment relationship with a superior, such as a school principal.

Ray called any effort to bring back collective bargaining a “false expectation. There’s no desire for that,” he said. “If we take care of our employees well, there’s no need” for a union.

Richard Turnquist, a Republican activist and self-proclaimed MAGA (Make American Great Again) troll, noted the applause and cheers that came from those in the audience once the vote was over.

Michael Fields, the former state director for AFP, had this to say:

And this from Tim Krug, a DougCo resident who has also been active in fighting the voucher program: a note to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who favors vouchers:

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.