By now, my faithful readers should be familiar with Douglas County School District’s embattled first-of-its-kind local voucher program, the Choice Scholarship Program (CSP). I was super excited about an amicus brief written by my friends at the Friedman Foundation and the Independence Institute way back in August of last year, and could barely contain myself during oral arguments before the Colorado Supreme Court last December. It’s been a very, very long wait since then. That wait is now over, though the news is both good and bad.
The bad news is that while the court did decide that the plaintiffs lacked the standing to bring a taxpayer suit under the School Finance Act, it also ruled that the CSP is unconstitutional under Article IX, Section 7 of the Colorado Constitution. That section, frequently called a Blaine Amendment, ostensibly prohibits the state from providing direct aid to religious institutions, including religious private schools.
However, other high court rulings have found that vouchers are designed to provide aid to students, not to the religious institutions themselves. I’ll spare you the legal citations (you know how I feel about legalese) and let my big policy friends do the detailed analysis. Cato’s Jason Bedrick and the Friedman Foundation’s Brittany Corona have already started down that road, and my Independence Institute friends will do the same tomorrow.
For now, the quick and dirty is this: Both U.S. and Colorado legal precedent shows that parental choice breaks the link between government and religious institutions. If a parent chooses to send his or her child to a religious school, that’s just fine. As long as parents aren’t compelled to send their kids to religious schools, any benefit to those schools is indirect and incidental.
Apparently not concerned about this issue, a plurality (notably different than a majority) of Colorado’s justices applied a very broad “plain language” interpretation of this amendment in the full Dougco decision. This argument states, in effect, that no state money can ever be used to support and sustain a religious institution, even if that support is indirect or incidental. Continue Reading »