Citizens and Education Groups Prepare to Bring Legal Challenge
Today, Colorado Governor Bill Owens will disregard the wishes of Colorado voters and sign a voucher bill that will provide $5000 vouchers to qualifying students, even though the voters have twice rejected attempts to divert public tax dollars to private schools. The state is now fourth in the nation to divert public funds to private schools via a voucher program.
"It is unfortunate that the governor and Legislature have such low regard for Colorado voters," said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way (PFAW). "The voters said 'no' in 1992. They said it again in 1998. Now legislators will have to hear it from the court."
Voucher advocates have argued that last June's U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Cleveland voucher case would fuel a drive to create voucher programs in a number of states. Thus far however, most legislatures and governors have rejected voucher legislation. Efforts to pass voucher and tuition tax credit bills in the GOP-controlled Virginia Legislature failed earlier this year. In Utah, moderate Republicans joined with Democrats in the Legislature to defeat a bill that would have created tuition tax credits and tax-credit vouchers.
"Most state leaders have gotten the message that the vast majority of our children are educated by public schools and the vast majority of public schools do a good job of educating our children," said Nancy Keenan, PFAW education director. "For those schools that are struggling, there is real evidence that vouchers are not the answer. Voucher programs only serve to divert resources away from proven reforms, such as reducing class sizes, that have a real impact on student achievement."
The Colorado law will be the first passed in the nation since the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly decided such programs do not violate the U.S. Constitution. However, Colorado's voucher bill must meet the stricter standards of the state constitution. People For the American Way Foundation expects to participate in a court challenge to the Colorado voucher law by Colorado citizens and others.
"Transferring public dollars to religious and private schools under this law is a clear violation of the standards established in Colorado's state constitution," said Elliot Mincberg, PFAW legal director. "We are hopeful that the state supreme court will preserve these essential protections and reject this voucher law on these grounds."