07/18/2011 02:57 pm ET Updated Sep 17, 2011

Douglas County School District's Pilot Voucher Program To Stay In Denver District Court

A Denver District judge has denied a motion to move the Douglas County School District Voucher Pilot Program from Denver to Douglas County, saying he isn't convinced state involvement has been just "tangential" in the matter.

Emails produced by plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit show Colorado's State Board of Education Chairman Bob Schaffer expressing his desire to "pave the way for Douglas County right away within CDE," and, "If there are any legislative barriers, I'd like them well defined so that legislators can be advised where to start in January".

Schaffer, R-Fort Collins, has been a supporter of voucher programs in the past and helped then-Governors Bill Owens and Roy Romer create the Colorado Charter Schools Act.

Notes from a Douglas County School Board meeting also show policy drafting between the Douglas County School Board's legal counsel, Robert Ross, and the state's Education Commissioner Robert Hammond discussing whether to call the pilot a charter school or district program.

In the notes, State Education Commissioner Hammond says it's "easier" to call the move a charter for liability reasons.

"A key issue is how you spin it – as a charter or a program. As a charter, easier on waivers, set up unique circumstances on how the board is overseeing the charter. Versus the program, which is more of a waiver challenge," Hammond said.

Judge Michael A. Martinez ruled Saturday that the case remain in Denver because "the Court is not persuaded" that the State Defendants (Douglas County School District, the Colorado Board of Education, Colorado Department of Education, and Douglas County Board of Education) have had no substantive role in the program. Judge Martinez also said the defendants failed to make the case that the Denver venue was an improper location.

Douglas County School District voted unanimously last March to approve a "Choice Scholarship Pilot Program" that would direct public funds to 500 students, selected by lottery, to attend schools outside of their district. The ACLU, Taxpayers for Public Education, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed lawsuits and preliminary injunction on behalf of the plaintiffs in order to prevent the program from funneling taxpayer dollars to 14 religious schools.

From the Denver Post:

Opponents of the voucher program say the meetings and consultations with the Department of Education smack of improper involvement by a supposedly impartial state agency.

The hearing for the injunction to stop the voucher pilot is set for Aug. 2-4. Douglas County's school year begins the week after the hearing.

Read Judge Martinez's decision to deny the Douglas County Defendants' Motion for Change of Venue: Change Of Venue Denied