Douglas County School Board Abandons 1 Of 2 School Voucher Plans

Photo: Douglas County School District
The Douglas County School District faces a lawsuit for allegedly supporting programs that promote Christianity.

There's a new twist in a legal battle that began in 2011 when the Douglas County School Board voted to allow taxpayer money to fund a voucher program for students to attend private and religious schools.

The board voted Tuesday night to drop its School Choice Grant Program. That's the replacement program -- with no allowance for religious schools -- approved earlier this year.

Backers of the original 2011 Choice Scholarship Program, which allowed vouchers to be used for private and religious schools, are still waiting to hear whether the U.S. Supreme Court will hear their case.

Here's how we got to this point:

Aug. 12, 2011: Denver District Court Judge Michael Martinez issues a permanent injunction against the Choice Scholarship Program, after a lawsuit was filed against the program by some Douglas County residents, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

March 18, 2014: The Colorado Supreme Court agrees to hear that case. At the time, Board of Education Director Craig Richardson said the program was no different than funding for soldiers under the GI bill.

Dec. 10, 2014: Civil liberties groups and the district argue their points before the Colorado Supreme Court. Plaintiffs say the Choice Scholarship Program violated both financial and religious provisions in the Colorado constitution.

March 15, 2016: With the religious school voucher program still on hold, the Douglas County School Board narrowly passes a similar program, called the School Choice Grant Program, which has no provision for religious schools.

May 25, 2016: Two groups -- the American Civil Liberties Union and Taxpayers for Public Education -- file motions to prevent this new, non-religious school voucher plan from going forward because uses public taxpayer funds for private education.

June 29, 2015: Colorado's Supreme Court ruled against the county's voucher program for religious schools, saying it violates Colorado's constitutional separation of church and state. (Ruling here.)

Sept. 2, 2015: School officials announced their intention to appeal religious school voucher case to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing the amendment cited by the lower court has its roots in anti-Catholic bigotry and violates the U.S. Constitution.

March 16, 2016: A divided Douglas County school board approves a new voucher plan aimed at letting parents use taxpayer money to send their kids to non-religious private schools.

March 19, 2016: The Institute for Justice, a right-leaning legal organization, files a lawsuit against Douglas County Schools on behalf of three families who say the new school voucher program discriminates because it doesn't allow students to attend private religious schools.

June 9, 2016: That case gets its first hearing in federal court.

Aug. 3, 2016: The county's non-religious school voucher program is sidelined by a Denver District Court judge on the grounds it was not substantially different from the original program. The judge in the case, Michael Martinez, is the same one who issued the original injunction in 2011.

Nov. 15, 2016: The Douglas County School Board votes in favor of dropping the stalled plan to offer vouchers for non-religious private schools. The court case involving the original plan, which included religious schools, is still awaiting U.S. Supreme Court action.