Douglas County School Voucher Program Halted; Now What, And Who Pays?
The Douglas County voucher program may have been halted in last Friday's court order, but it is unclear what that means for students and parents who expected to begin the school year outside of the district with state funds.
The preliminary and permanent injunction issued by Denver District Judge Michael Martinez forces Douglas County School District to cancel its program, but leaves to question the manner in which the program is dismantled. Of the 500 voucher students, 304 have already gotten to the process where they were eligible to receive the check, district spokesman Randy Barber told The Huffington Post today. In addition, $300,000 of the contested voucher funds have already been sent out in payments of $4,575 per student on behalf of 265 students.
Barber says the school district has already received hundreds of calls from concerned parents, and Douglas County Board of Education President John Carson has been discussing plans for the district to appeal the decision.
“We believe that allowing parents to choose the best school setting for their children from a wide variety of options leads to maximum student success. The court’s ruling today limits the opportunity for Douglas County parents to determine the best school fit for their children,” Carson said in a statement. “This ruling is not what the people of Douglas County wanted or what we know is in the best interest of our students.”
An excerpt from the court's recognition of the difficulty of its decision (for full text of Judge Martinez's decision, scroll to the bottom):
Enjoining Defendants’ implementation of the Scholarship Program does not disserve the public interest. Although Defendants assert that the interests of participating students and the Douglas County School District in the educational process would be enhanced by the implementation of the Scholarship Program, this interest is outweighed by the substantial disservice to the public interest that would result from the implementation of an unconstitutional program affecting approximately 58,000 students and the taxpaying residents of Douglas County.
Furthermore in his ruling, Judge Martinez adds that the plaintiffs "have expressly not asked the court" to rule on the process of un-enrolling students that have already begun their school year at a private school as a result of the vouchers, nor mandate the process of returning funds if they must return them at all.
The district’s contract with its private school partners says any voucher payments to the schools are pro-rated, meaning they keep the money only for the period of time a voucher student actually attended. The schools have to repay any remaining balance within 45 days of a student’s decision to leave.
So Dougco officials may easily recoup payments made for students who return to district schools. It’s not clear what the district may do, if anything, to recover the first voucher payments for students who stay with their private schools.
"I don't actually know which of the private schools have started," Barber said. "The check goes to the parent, and the parent sends it to the school. And that's what we believe is the key upholder in this case--is that it's the parent's choice."
Read Denver District Judge Michael Martinez's order and reasons for granting preliminary and permanent injunctive relief.
Order Granting Preliminary Injunction