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The Douglas County School District's choice scholarship program finally will be aired before the state's highest court.
Oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the voucher program are set for 1:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Colorado Supreme Court in downtown Denver.
That date is more than three years after a Denver District Court judge halted the pilot program by declaring it unconstitutional in August 2011. The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed that decision in February 2012.
“We're certainly looking forward to entering this phase,” school board president Kevin Larsen said. “It's our wish they would uphold the decision that stands at the moment.”
Plaintiff Cindy Barnard share Larsen's sense of anticipation.
“I'm confident that we will prevail in the Supreme Court,” said Barnard, a Highlands Ranch resident and president of the nonprofit Taxpayers for Public Education. “It'll be a bad day for public education if we do not prevail.”
Parents and groups, including the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado and Taxpayers for Public Education, filed suit after DCSD introduced the program in 2011. It allows parents to use state-issued funds toward tuition at private schools — most of which have a religious affiliation.
The Colorado Department of Education and the school district are defendants in the case.
Each side will have 30 minutes to present oral arguments during the Dec. 10 court proceeding. Justices will then deliberate and write an opinion, a process that could take months.
Though it is on hold during litigation, the program is listed on DCSD's website among its school choice options. The district's description of the choice scholarship program includes a notation that it is pending due to a court challenge, links about the court proceedings and the legal fund established to defend the program.
Donations to the fund so far have totaled more than $1.16 million. The site says the defense is relying on privately raised funds, and no taxpayer dollars.
Larsen said the district hasn't discussed next steps.
“We've really gone four years now without being able to implement the pilot that was about to get under way,” he said. “We will look at the time the decision comes what the best course is for the kids in the district.
“It's really too early to speculate now. We're just focused on one step at a time.”
Likewise, Barnard said the plaintiffs haven't considered any further action if they don't prevail at the state Supreme Court.
“We'll cross that road if we come to it,” she said. “We're hopeful that we will not come to that.”
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