Strong words, and a little cognitive dissonance

A judge in Colorado on Friday blocked the Douglas County school district’s voucher experiment, insisting that allowing the program to move forward will lead to “real, immediate, and irreparable injury” to the plaintiffs and others who asked for the injunction.

Specifically, Judge Michael A. Martinez wrote in a 68-page ruling that the program provides aid to churches and faith-based schools and ignores safeguards that would ensure no public school funding would promote a participating school’s “sectarian agenda.” Further, Martinez said, there is “overwhelming evidence” to show that the voucher program violates Colorado’s constitutional provisions which call for “uniform” funding of public education across the state.

Interestingly, Martinez wasn’t persuaded by the ACLU’s argument that the program also violated the constitutional demand for a thorough and uniform “system of free public education.” A similar uniformity clause sunk the private school option in Florida’s Opportunity Scholarship Program in 2006. Martinez, though, said the plaintiffs failed to show that the scholarship program prevented students “from otherwise obtaining a free public education in Douglas County.”

Maddeningly, the judge acknowledged that the scholarship program “appears to be a well-intentioned effort to assist students in Douglas County,” further stating that he agrees that the purpose of the school district was to help students and parents, “not sectarian institutions.” The U.S. Supreme Court said the same when it came to a wholly different conclusion in the challenge to Cleveland’s voucher program.

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