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Colorado – Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program

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 Colorado Supreme Court ruled the program unconstitutional in June 2015.  The Court held that the program, which allowed both religious and secular private schools to participate, violated the Colorado constitution’s Blaine amendment (forbidding aid to religious schools). Petitions for Writ of Certiorari were filed in the fall of 2015, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. On June 27, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted the case, vacated the June 2015 decision of the Colorado Supreme Court, and sent the case back to the Colorado Supreme Court with instruction to reconsider the constitutionality of the Douglas County Choice Scholarship program in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran v Comer. 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: 51 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 500 tuition vouchers to any public school students who have spent at least one year enrolled in the Douglas County School District. The program is subject to annual renewal or cancellation by the school board. 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. Parents and community members, appointed by the school board, provide oversight. Currently, the program is inoperable pending review by the Supreme Court of the United States.

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.

EdChoice Expert 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. The innovative program could improve in several areas, yet the most important next step in this program will be to overcome its legal challenges. Until then, it would be premature to suggest changes to a program that awaits a final court decision about its constitutionality.

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. In the fall of 2015, three Petitions for Writ of Certiorari were submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States, asking for review of the Colorado decision. On June 27, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted the review petitions and vacated the 2015 decision of the Colorado Supreme court. The high court also sent the case back to the Colorado Supreme Court, with instruction to reconsider the case in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26, 2017 ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer. In its Trinity decision, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that it is “odious to our Constitution” and a violation of the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution to exclude a religious entity from a generally available public benefit program because of its religious status. The Colorado Supreme Court had previously ruled that the Douglas County Scholarship program, which allowed both religious and secular private schools to participate, violated the Colorado constitution’s Blaine amendment (forbidding aid to religious schools), and the Colorado court also ruled that the program did not violate the U.S. Constitution.

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