Why Douglas County, Colorado, Vouchers Were Ruled Unconstitutional

Diane Ravitch adds to the conversation on Colorado Supreme Court’s recent decision by grabbing the language from the state Constitution! It pays to follow the blog of an educational historian at dianeravitch.net The whole deal seems pretty cut and dry. Nevada next?

Diane Ravitch's blog

A few days ago, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the voucher plan adopted by the school board in Douglas County was unconstitutional. It was a split decision. It is puzzling that it was a split decision, because the Colorado state constitution explicitly prohibits any public funding of religious institutions.
Text of Section 7:
Aid to Private Schools, Churches, Sectarian Purpose, Forbidden.

Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation, or pay from any public fund or moneys whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian society, or for any sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever; nor shall any grant or donation of land, money or other personal property, ever be made by the…

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Colorado’s Voucher Issue

Today the New York Times ran a front-cover story about Colorado’s state Supreme Court’s refusal to allow vouchers to fund religious schools. This might lead you to wonder, “Why is this happening? What’s so wrong with vouchers?”


Voucher programs are typically a municipal initiative (like in Milwaukee, Wisconsin or Douglas County, Colorado), and sometimes a state initiative (like in Minnesota). Vouchers consolidate public money collected via tax revenue and then the program redirects the money intended for public schools back to parents. Parents are then able to use this voucher to offset the cost of private schools.

School choice proponents like this because it places control in the hands of parents. Courts do not like these programs because the most affordable private schools are often religious schools. Though vouchers typically hover in the $1,500 – $3,000 dollar amount, independent private schools often cost over $20,000 a year for tuition. Meanwhile, private religious schools average tuition is typically less than $7,000. So, if you’re a parent with a $2,500 voucher that clearly will go a lot further toward paying a $7,000 tuition rather than a $20,000 tuition.

Make sense?

At issue here is the separation of church and state, a maxim repeated often and implicitly addressed in the U.S. Constitution under the First Amendment, which decrees Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

Many education reforms butt up against the Establishment and Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment (e.g. sex education in school, etc). What do you think? Are publicly-funded vouchers in violation of the First Amendment when they are applied toward tuition for religious schools?