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 ruling has been submitted for review by the Supreme Court of the United States, where a petition for certiori has been pending since October, 2015. In response to delay at the high court resulting from the untimely death of Justice Scalia, the Douglas County school board created a revised voucher program that excludes religious schools. That program is set to begin in the fall of 2016. Learn more about the program’s details on this page, including eligibility, funding, regulations, legal history and more.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 step in this program will be to overcome serious legal challenges. Until then, it would be premature to suggest changes to a program that may ultimately be changed, or freed, by order of the Supreme Court.
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. That case is pending.
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