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Colorado – Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program

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Colorado – Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program

The Douglas County Choice Scholarship program is the country’s first district-created, nearly universal school voucher program. The program, which is authorized by the public school district, was enacted and launched in 2011. The program is currently in operation after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled the program unconstitutional in June 2015. The case has been submitted for review by the Supreme Court of the United States. Learn more about the program’s details on this page, including eligibility, funding, regulations, legal history, and more.

Program Fast Facts

  • America’s only district-created private school choice program

  • 494 participating students (2011–12)

  • 95 percent of students eligible districtwide

  • 21 participating schools (2011–12)

  • Average voucher value: $1,143 (one-fourth of 2011–12 school year)

  • Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 53 percent

Program Details

Percent of Douglas County K–12 students eligible for the Choice Scholarship Program

Click the + symbols to learn more about this program’s details.

The Douglas County Colorado Choice Scholarship Program provides vouchers to any public school students who have spent at least one year enrolled in the Douglas County School District.

Student Funding

Eligible students can receive a voucher worth the lesser of the private school tuition or 75 percent of the per-pupil public revenue ($5,066 in 2014–15). A family is allowed to supplement the voucher with additional funds.

Student Eligibility

Students must be residents of the Douglas County School District (DCSD) for at least one year, and must currently attend a DCSD public school. Non-residents who have chosen to enroll in DCSD public schools are not eligible. If more than 500 students apply for vouchers, a lottery is held. Participating private schools can be located outside Douglas County, but students may not use the vouchers for online schools or homeschooling.

Friedman Feedback

The Choice Scholarship Program, the nation’s only voucher program authorized by a public school district, allows any child attending a Douglas County public school to be eligible for a voucher. Still, the innovative program could improve in several areas. First, the program is too limited by the 500-student cap. Second, Douglas County’s vouchers treat private school choice students unfairly by funding them significantly below what they would get in their local public schools. Finally, numerous regulations have been imposed on private schools that accept voucher students. Participating private schools must (1) show that students are achieving and growing academically to remain eligible, (2) provide three years of financial history, (3) release students for state or district assessments, and (4) allow voucher students to opt-out of any religious activities. For the program to grow, district leaders should consider removing the enrollment cap, increasing the per-voucher funding amount, and giving private schools more autonomy.

Rules and Regulations

  • Income Limit: None
  • Prior Year Public School Requirement: Yes
  • Geographic Limit: District (Douglas County)
  • Enrollment Cap: 500
  • Voucher Cap: $5,066
  • Testing Mandates: National
  • The program is subject to annual renewal or cancellation by the school board. Parents and community members, appointed by the school board, provide oversight.

 

School Requirements:

  • Be accredited by a recognized state or national accrediting organization
  • Demonstrate student achievement and growth results for participating students at least as strong as what district neighborhood and charter schools produce
  • Disclose financial history, including the past three years of audited financial statements and documentation showing adequate insurance policies
  • Private schools that have been in operation for fewer than three years must demonstrate the ability to indemnify the district for any loss if the school closes
  • Comply with building codes and have a safe school plan
  • Conduct criminal background checks on school employees
  • May not discriminate in employment or enrollment decisions
  • Must release participating students so the district can administer statewide or district assessments
  • Provide information on employment and enrollment policies, a description of student performance assessments, student conduct and discipline policies, and a description of governance and operations

Legal History

In a 3-1-3 decision, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program unconstitutional on June 29, 2015. Although the state’s Supreme Court opinion limits educational options for Douglas County students, it might open a door for thousands across the country to access quality education. In October 2015, the state submitted a Petition for Writ of Certiorari, submitting the case for review by the Supreme Court of the United States on the Blaine amendment issue. In a related development, on January 15, 2016, the Court granted certiorari in the Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v Pauley case, which is another case challenging the constitutionality of state Blaine amendments. .

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