The Douglas County School District in Colorado plans to implement a new voucher program in the coming school year. Up to 500 district students will be “counted” as public school students for the purpose of obtaining state funding, but the funding will actually go to the private schools that participating students will attend. Any student is qualified to participate, as long as he or she can gain admission to an approved “Private School Partner.” That shouldn’t be a problem — unless the student is gay, HIV-positive, non-Christian, or just doesn’t go to church every Sunday.
Of the 19 private schools participating in the voucher program, 14 of them are religious institutions. Of the five that are not religious, only three are open to all types of students, and none of those teaches past the eighth grade. Once the religious schools have the taxpayer money from the program, they are free to do as they please with it.
For example, several of the approved Private School Partners don’t admit students who don’t have Christian parents. At least one holds regular prayer in the classrooms. Another charges higher tuition to students who aren’t Catholic. Yet another teaches creationism. Many of the schools require their students to attend religious services during school. Many of the schools also discriminate in hiring, turning away teachers who aren’t churchgoing Christians. The discrimination isn’t limited to religious grounds: one school considers homosexuality a cause for terminating employment, and another permits a team appointed by the school superintendent to recommend whether to admit, deny or withdraw an HIV-positive student.
Parents have the right to send their children to any school, public or private, but the use of taxpayer funds for religious education and discrimination is blatantly unconstitutional.
The ACLU, along with other civil liberties organizations, is challenging the Douglas County School District’s voucher plan. You can read more about the facts of the case and our lawsuit here.