Colo. school voucher program struck down

Judge says it took control from local school boards

December 04, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

A Denver judge struck down Colorado's new school voucher law yesterday, ruling that it violates the state constitution by stripping local school boards of their control over education.

"The goals of the voucher program are laudable," wrote District Judge Joseph E. Meyer III. "However, even great ideas must be implemented within the framework of the Colorado Constitution. By stripping all discretion from the local district over the instruction to be provided in the voucher program, the General Assembly has violated article IX, section 15."

The Colorado voucher law, enacted in April and scheduled to take effect with the next school year, would have made vouchers available to low-income, low-achieving students in school districts with eight or more low-performing schools. Other districts would have had a choice of whether to participate. But the ruling blocked implementation of the plan.

Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, said he would appeal.

"Securing school choice for the children of Colorado was a long legislative struggle, and there was always the likelihood the struggle would extend to the courts," he said in a statement. "Children from low-income families should not be facing a dead end if they are in a school that is below par. They deserve a choice, and that is why we will appeal the court's decision."

The Colorado PTA was the lead plaintiff in the challenge to the voucher plan, joined by religious and advocacy groups and several individuals.

Opponents of the voucher plan, which budget officials estimated would take $90 million a year out of the participating districts, argue that the loss of that money and the departure of so many students would undermine public schools.

The Colorado Education Association hailed the ruling.

"Today's decision reinforces our long-held belief that our statewide system of public education is rightly founded on the principle of local control," the teachers union said.

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