The Douglas County Board of Education voted 7-0 to rescind its School Choice Grant Program Nov. 15 because of rising concerns about the cost of defending it against ongoing legal challenges.
With the newest voucher program gone, all litigation concerning it will also go away.
The program had effectively been suspended since the spring, and no students were using it.
"There is a grave concern about the cost running up and we do have an obligation to our taxpayers," board member Anne-Marie Lemieux said.
In March, the school board amended its original voucher system, the Choice Scholarship Program, to prohibit money from being used at religious schools - a point that led to litigation against the prior program - and renamed it.
Judge Michael Martinez of the 2nd Judicial District stopped the the newest voucher program Aug. 3. Martinez granted the injunction filed by Taxpayers for Public Education, a group that, according to its website, is a Colorado-based, bipartisan organization made up of taxpayers and parents of children enrolled in public schools.
Martinez found that the School Choice Grant Program was fundamentally the same as its predecessor, and that it was covered by the same injunction that halted the earlier version of the program.
"I know where this is heading and it is not heading in the direction of my child being able to go to the school that they want to," school board Vice President Judith Reynolds said at the Nov. 15 meeting.
Board President Meghann Silverthorn said rescinding the second program does not change the district's commitment to school choice and that it is awaiting the fate of the original program, which has faced legal challenges and is waiting to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"This is perhaps not the best way forward," Silverthorn said. "I think there are better programs than this to provide school choice to our families."
The voucher dispute dates to 2011, when the school board approved the Choice Scholarship Program. Designed to accommodate 500 students, it allowed students' parents to use state-provided, per-pupil money toward tuition at private schools, including religiously affiliated institutions.
Taxpayers for Public Education subsequently filed a lawsuit against the district to stop it. A Denver judge halted the program that same year, but in 2013, a state appeals court reversed that decision. The state's top court in June 2015 issued a ruling saying using public funds for religious schooling was unconstitutional, again halting the program.
The district filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court in September 2015.
Taxpayers for Public Education said it is pleased that the Board of Education has recognized “the futility of trying to legally defend its revised voucher program, and has voted to rescind that program.”
“However, DCSD continues to defend its original, unconstitutional voucher program in the courts and to divert scarce public school resources to that improper purpose,” Tax payers for Public Education said in a Statement. “TFPE urges the DCSD Board to take action to rescind its original voucher program as well, and to turn all public school resources back to the goal of educating the public school children of Douglas County.”
Board member James Geddes reiterated the district's commitment to choice and the original Choice Scholarship Program.
"I am very much in favor of implementing the Choice Scholarship Program and having it be a success," Geddes said. "I support the concept and I hope to see the Supreme Court will make a decision that will send us down that course."