January 29, 2015

NSCW 2015 — Awaiting an important school choice decision in Colorado

By Joshua P. Thompson Senior Attorney

Last August, PLF filed this brief in the Colorado Supreme Court in favor of Douglas County’s revolutionary school choice program.  The Supreme Court heard argument on the case back in December.  You can listen to the argument here.  We are now awaiting a decision from the Court.

I do not use the “revolutionary” term lightly. Most school choice programs, like the ones we defended in New Hampshire or Indiana for example, involve statewide legislation that give parents the right to choose the best education for their child. Some others involve state legislation that targets specific groups, like the educations savings accounts for special needs children in Arizona.  Still others involve state legislation that allows students in certain school districts to choose the most appropriate school, like the Milwaukee and Racine voucher programs in Wisconsin. The school choice program in Douglas County, Colorado, however, is different.

The Douglas County school board did not wait around for legislators in Denver to pass legislation allowing Colorado students to have educational choices. Instead, Douglas County, on its own, adopted a tax credit scholarship program for all students within its jurisdiction. Thus, Douglas County is the first school board in the nation to adopt a school choice program.

If Douglas County is successful, it can serve as a model for other school districts across the nation who desire to give students school choice, but are constrained by the inaction of state legislatures beholden to teachers’ unions. This could open a whole new avenue for parents to push for school choice reforms.  While it may be difficult for individual parents to significantly influence statewide legislative elections — especially in areas they do not reside in — creating change on local school boards is much more feasible.  And if parents change school boards to be composed of school choice advocates, Douglas County’s model can serve to give thousands of students the educational choices they so richly deserve.

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