Those bent on restricting educational options for the neediest students in Colorado are on the defensive these days, as support builds for allowing parents to send their children to the school of their choice. Now a U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a religious institution’s ability to receive state funding has brought new hope to Hispanic families in Colorado – and all Coloradans seeking expanded educational opportunities for their children.
In Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that denying religious institutions state funding for programs with a secular intent is unconstitutional because it violates the U.S. Constitution’s protection of the free exercise of religion. In light of this ruling, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Colorado Supreme Court against the Douglas County School District’s Scholarship Choice Program, in which the Colorado court said that public money could not be used to fund religious education. In light of the new ruling, the Colorado Supreme court will have to reconsider the case.
In June 2015, when Colorado’s Supreme Court struck down the country’s first district-created, nearly universal school voucher program, Douglas County families saw their hopes for more educational options crushed. However, these families and all families across the state may now see their hopes restored. In fact, what is interesting about the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling is that Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer appears to invalidate the Colorado Supreme Court’s very rationale for striking down the program. This ruling may finally open the door to even more school choice programs across the state by removing uncertainty over their constitutionality.
Enacted in March of 2011, the Choice Scholarship Program was designed to provide up to 500 Douglas County students with grants to be used for a private partner school of their choice. To be eligible, students had to be Douglas County School District residents currently attending a DCSD school and who had resided in the District no less than one year. In line with other school choice programs being enacted around the nation, grants under the Choice Scholarship Program would have been provided to parents, who would have then chosen whichever secular private partner school they wished for their children.
Latino families across Colorado desperately need more educational options, especially in areas where traditional public schools have been unable to meet their academic needs. Consider Adams City High School in Commerce City, for example. In Adams City High, roughly 8 out of 10 students are Hispanic, and the school is also one of the state’s lowest-performing. Allowing programs like the DCSD’s Choice Scholarship Program to function would give these students a way out of underperforming public schools by opening the possibility to attend a private institution.
School choice policies have been on the march for several years now, with more and more courts agreeing on the constitutionality of these programs. At this point we can only hope that the Colorado Supreme Court will reconsider its 2015 ruling and allow the Choice Scholarship Program to finally start providing Colorado’s families with more educational options. Hispanic families and all families seeking a way out of underperforming schools will be watching.