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Injunction on Douglas County voucher program leaves families, schools in limbo

A Denver judge’s school-voucher decision Friday brought confusion, stress and distress for parents, students and administrators of both public and private schools across Douglas County as they tried Monday to sort out the impact of the court-ordered halt to the program.

Hundreds of parents called the Douglas County School District on Monday, wondering what to do next, spokesman Randy Barber said.

Denver District Judge Michael Martinez issued a permanent injunction Friday, stopping Douglas County schools from implementing the voucher program its board approved in March.

Monday, just about the only certainty was that Martinez’s ruling would be appealed.

“We, and when I say we, I mean the three families we represent, will be appealing,” said Michael Bindas of the Institute for Justice.

Bindas said institute attorneys are considering asking the state Supreme Court to hear the case directly, bypassing the appeals court.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued to stop the program. Unless the injunction is overturned, the ACLU says, there is no need for the broader suit challenging the constitutionality of the program.

Of the 500 students who planned to participate in what the district calls its Choice Scholarship Program, preliminary payments had been mailed for 265 of them, totaling about $300,000, Barber said. The district intended to make quarterly payments to parents toward private-school tuition, he said.

But whether that money will have to be returned to the district, or to the state, is an unanswered question, Barber said.

“It’s something our lawyers are looking at” and should decide later this week, Barber said. “We know families are waiting for this information.”

A single sentence in the 68-page ruling has left attorneys and district officials scratching their heads: “Plaintiffs have expressly not asked the Court to direct the disenrollment of scholarship recipients already attending Private Partner Schools or the return of funds already expended.”

Beyond that, the judge offered no direction regarding what happens to the money already allocated.

“This has been very difficult for us and very devastating for the kids,” said Terry Martin, academic director for Woodlands Academy in Castle Rock, one of the 23 private schools approved to participate in the voucher program.

When Martin walked into Woodlands on Monday morning, there were two anxious moms — one in tears — waiting for her and wondering where they were going to send their children to school, she said.

Tiny Woodlands Academy, which is dedicated to very small class sizes, expected to have 31 students this year — 12 of whom were transferring in thanks to Douglas County’s voucher program. Woodlands has hired two additional teachers, and, with parents’ donations of time and money, built two new classrooms, Martin said.

Martin said several parents have offered help with scholarships for families that can’t pay the $7,000-a-year tuition without vouchers.

Woodlands still has more than a week before classes begin, but students who must return to Douglas County schools will get a late start on an academic year that, at many schools, began Aug. 1.

What’s more, any student who gave up a spot in a charter school to participate in the voucher program may have trouble reclaiming that seat, as many have waiting lists.

The Colorado Department of Education, which distributes money to school districts based on enrollment, has not weighed in on the money matter, spokeswoman Janelle Asmus said.

Karen Auge, Photo: KSL

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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24 Comments

  1. Douglas County put the “cart before the horse” here…

  2. I have to agree here. Silverstein from the ACLU doesn’t get involved unless he thinks he has a winner and he has a remarkable track record. While I actually think the voucher system has merit; someone dropped the ball here in not forewarning the parents/students of the potential pitfalls which have now bestowed them.

  3. They shouldn’t be in limbo and they shouldn’t be stealing from the public education funds. Just go back to school like you did last years. The Koch Bros and the hedge fund guys need to stop pushing this stuff. Their goal is to stop public education as they already go to private schools and don’t like being taxed for anything public.

  4. Parents wanting to enroll kids in private schools and waiting lists at the Charter Schools shows what a failure traditional schools have become. Successful schools would not have parents doing everything they can to get out.

  5. I don’t see anyone in limbo here, especially in the short term. The way that I read the line quoted from the ruling, the judge did not order the money already disbursed to be returned. That means that everyone can proceed with their plans for the first quarter.

    The question is what happens next quarter. The parents that truly believe that they are doing the right thing for their child will pay the tuition themselves. The ones that jumped into this looking for a handout from the taxpayers will put their kids back into the public schools.

  6. This is all hyperbole. Not all schools are doing poorly and not all parents are dissatisfied with the education their children receive. Could we do better? Of course. We should always strive to do better, no matter what we do. There really are no easy answers here, however. Education is not rocket science. If it were, you would put numbers into an equation and get a result. People are not numbers; they are little vessels of culture, emotion, history, family. . .
    I think we forget sometimes that we are talking about children instead of data. There are lots of different ways to get it right, and it’s foolish to think that public schools are always getting it wrong.

    That being said, I do have some sympathy for these parents who were caught out on the limb. They obviously trusted the wrong people. Those people will keep their jobs and large salaries while people heap abuse upon teachers and schools who didn’t make the decisions.

    And right there we have a first-class education in what is seriously wrong in this country: the lack of accountability in our “leaders.” Hang the kids out to dry; I’ve got mine.

  7. There are traditional public schools that have waiting lists as well. Our small neighborhood school is full and limits enrollment. Each year, kindergarten enrollment day looks like Black Friday at Target with people waiting in line to sign up their kid in one of the limited spaces.

    Douglas County’s excellent schools are probably the same way. That points out the second (after the whole constitutionality thing) major flaw in this program. It tries to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. If it had been piloted in a district with a 50% graduation rate or worse, there likely would not have been many people against it.

  8. Public taxpayer dollars should stay with the public schools. If parents want to exercise the OPTION of sending their children to a private school, then they should also pay for it. While this is a “Free Country” to make these types of private decisions, the taxpayers are not responsible to pay.

  9. The way this matter is being described in this article suggests the parents and students were caught totally off guard.

    Unfortunately, that is not true. During the hearings the threat of a lawsuit, and/or injunction, was raised. Parents and concerned citizens warned that the action taken by the schoolboard was inappropriate.

    I am surprised the school board did develop contingency plans, especially in light of the controversy. Just goes to prove education has its own pitfalls.

  10. My wife and I did our planning. We bought all of our school supplies, made sure our bus fee’s were all paid up, and had our children put those first semester schedules together. This is the life for a DC parent. We work hard, and plan ahead. I don’t understand what the problem is.
    The gravy train is over, we defeated the siphoning off of the funds. These parent’s were forewarned all summer that the program would collapse. Make your adjustments, wipe away the crocodile tears and move on.
    How about a positive article about public education for a change? DC teachers rock and our students excel.
    Can the media try to focus a little more on the expense of a College education? I t seems this issue is more relevant than 500 pilot students who tried to work the system.

  11. The Douglas County school board should be fired! This should have never happened, Tax dollars should not be used to send children to religious schools. It opens a whole can of worms between religions of who gets money.

  12. The lesson here for parents is if you want to send your child to private school plan on paying without being subsidized by taxpayers.

    Furthermore, the whole voucher idea is a scam started by conservatives to undermine public education. Those conservative parents prefer to create an alternative reality for themselves, have their own set of “facts”, and don’t want any teacher interfering with the indoctrination of their kid.

  13. Good for Martinez…..Finally a judge who stands up for the taxpayers and will NOT allow families to gouge the general public to send their kids to a private school! If your kid has “special needs” get em in a program but not at the expense of joe plumber!

  14. Re: Should tax dollars be used to fund private school vouchers? Absolutely.

  15. The people that send their kids to private schools still pay the taxes. (And this coming from someone sending her kids to public school in Douglas County.)

  16. My tax dollars should not be used to send someone’s kids to a private Christian school, for example. Tax dollars go to public schools, if you want your kids to go to a private school, pay for it. Allowing this takes money away from the public schools which are the backbone of our children’s future. It would be like allowing public tax dollars to re-pave someone’s driveway when it should be used to re-pave the public road in front of it.

  17. I don’t think so. It SOUNDS like a good plan, right? You don’t think you’re getting the education you need at the public school you’re supposed to go to so we’ll give you some money to go to a private school. The problem is, as was mentioned above, it’s taking money away from the public schools (which will, in turn, make them worse than they already were). Plus, not all kids get to partake in said program as there isn’t enough money to send ALL kids to private schools. Thus, the kids who don’t get in get stuck in the other schools anyway. It’s a band-aid that doesn’t solve the ultimate problem. PS – private schools don’t necessarily equal BETTER schools. Some are, but be aware that private schools teachers do not have to meet the same requirements as public school teachers and generally get paid much less than public school teachers. Again, doesn’t mean they’re bad…some are quite good. But the assumption that a private school will give you a better education than a public school isn’t necessarily accurate.

  18. I love the way JeffCo does it: We get a choice of where to go. Public schools get the public funds.

  19. Yes, I am for school vouchers. Why should I not get the benefit of my tax dollars to send my children to the school of my choice? People who send their children to private schools pay taxes too – why should they not receive any benefit from it? Why should only the rich be able to afford to send their children to private schools?

  20. Whether or not we agree with it, I think we can agree about one thing: the timing could not be worse with school starting!

  21. I’m all for democracy in driving competition, freedom of choice, and I would love for my children to have a Christian education, but one issue I feel some families in our area are overlooking is the NIMBY factor. Rather than supporting our neighborhood schools (which are literally in our backyards) and helping drive *our* property value, families are embracing charters – just outside our neighborhood – for hopes of something that has been marketed to them as “better”…no Christian education included. Note to my friends/neighbors leaving: I still love ya 😉

  22. I have an idea, I know I’m not paying into DCSD the amount that they are giving out in vouchers. If they want to get vouchers, then they should only get the amount they they are actually paying in property taxes. no more, no less.

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