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Virginia Group Intervening In Douglas County Voucher Lawsuit

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DENVER (AP) – A Virginia school-choice advocacy group is getting involved in a voucher fight in Colorado’s second-largest school district.

Douglas County in suburban Denver is being sued for instituting a voucher program that parents can use at religious schools. Three groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say the program would lead to government sponsorship of religion.

The group Institute for Justice filed motions Tuesday to intervene in two separate lawsuits. The group is asking to join Douglas County on behalf of four sets of parents due to receive vouchers to use next school year, two for religious schools and two for private schools not affiliated with a religion.

Institute for Justice, based in Arlington, Va., argues that because parents choose the school, Douglas County’s plan doesn’t violate the separation of church and state.

“It’s parents, not government officials, who choose where to send their children,” said Michael Bindas, a lawyer for the group who briefed reporters Tuesday.

In 2004, Colorado’s Supreme Court threw out a state voucher plan similar to Douglas County’s. Bindas said that while the state may not direct local schools to send vouchers to parents to use at religious schools, an individual school district such as Douglas County is free to do so.

Douglas County plans to give $4,575 to parents of 500 children who qualified for the voucher program. The school district has approved 19 private schools to use the vouchers, including 14 religious schools.

One of the parents planning to use the vouchers next year, Derrick Doyle, said he can’t afford to send three children to a religious high school without assistance. Doyle pointed out that Douglas County allows charter schools and home-schooling.

“We feel like private schools should also be a choice,” he said.

The Institute for Justice prevailed earlier this year in an Arizona case in which that state offered dollar-for-dollar tax reductions for private-school tuition, including religious schools.

- By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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