Douglas County School District launches appeal process

District files for stay of court’s decision, asks for return of money

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The Douglas County School District filed a motion to fight for its controversial voucher program at the same time it announced it would be asking private schools to return money already distributed.

The district announced it filed a stay of the permanent injunction filed against its choice scholarship pilot program, designed to deliver school vouchers to 500 district students. The program was stopped on Aug. 12 with the decision by Denver District Court Judge Michael Martinez, who ruled it unconstitutional in part because it routes public education money to private, religious schools,

In a news release issued Aug. 19, the district calls its motion “the first legal step in a planned appeal” of Martinez’s ruling.

The school district in March launched the choice scholarship pilot program to allow qualified families to use 75 percent of their state-issued per-pupil-funding for private school tuition. In his ruling, Martinez reported more than 90 percent of the participating private schools are religious institutions. By the time the program was stopped, the district had sent more than $300,000 to the private schools for the 2011-2012 school year.

Martinez’s ruling came on the cusp of the start of school and the district announced the private schools were working with district officials to place the students enrolled in the program.

At the same time it approved its pilot program, the Douglas County School District board of education also opened a legal fund to solicit tax-deductible donations to finance the legal fight for the program. The district is confident its program will prevail.

“(The Douglas County School District) believes the Choice Scholarship Program will be vindicated because it was patterned after similar programs upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court and other state courts,” the district announced in its news release.

To date, the Choice Legal Fund has received more than $52,000 in donations, which have covered legal costs of more than $33,000, according to the school district.

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