School Voucher Battle Far From Over

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Douglas County School District officials in August 2011. (credit: CBS)

Douglas County School District officials in August 2011. (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti
The permanent injunction that a Denver District court judge handed down last Friday, halting the school voucher program in Douglas County Schools, was simply just another enticing chapter in the school voucher fight in Colorado. If anyone thinks this decision has ended the conversation, they haven’t been paying attention.

Douglas County officials have already promised to appeal the decision. In fact, they hope to skip the formalities of an appellate court and go straight to the Colorado Supreme Court. It would be great if they are able to cut to the chase like that, but it’s not likely.

The odd thing about Douglas County being the center of school voucher debate right now is that as a school district, Douglas County performs well. Few if any parents are trying to take their kids out of failing schools in Douglas County, in order to find a successful private school. Parents in Douglas County are looking for specialized schools or embracing parochial schools, but they are not fleeing crumbling or poor performing schools.

Douglas County school parents may not have that problem, but other parents across the state do face that issue in other school districts. The school funding lawsuit brought by the Lobato family from Southern Colorado is putting an ugly spotlight on conditions of some schools literally falling apart and while CSAP scores in Denver are improving, they are still far below that state average.

Parents seeking effective ways to teach their kids, which does not include the status quo, are only going to increase, even in the face of the Dougco injunction.

But vouchers are not the only way parents are looking to go around the traditional public school model. The success of certain charter schools in Denver is creating increased pressure on expanding charter school options throughout the metro area.

The Denver School of Science and Technology continues to win national awards for performance and more importantly, just received a major funding boost in the form of $7 million dollars from John Malone, of Liberty Media fame. The award will enable DSST to open five more schools, to add to their already successful five schools in northeast Denver.

The Malone award means more than a simple expansion boost for the DSST. The award will magnify the spotlight on alternative charter schools that are seeing success breaking from the standard public school model and will motivate parents looking to replicate the same success elsewhere.

With more focus on success stories like DSST, and more complaints about the quality of public schools, how long will it take for more parents from more districts to demand more options?

The officials in Douglas County may not be able to defend the constitutionality of their particular school voucher program, even if it gets to the Colorado Supreme Court. But between the momentum of the voucher movement, and the highlighted success of certain charter school models, more challenges and battles are coming.

Even if the Douglas County voucher program never again sees the light of day, it’s not the end of the voucher fight. It’s simply one more skirmish on the road to a much bigger battle over the future of education in Colorado.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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