DENVER (AP) – Opponents of a suburban Denver school voucher program and parents waiting to use the vouchers made their final arguments Thursday before a Denver judge who will decide whether to block the divisive school-choice plan.

District Judge Michael Martinez said he wouldn’t rule until maybe next week in the case of Douglas County’s Choice Scholarship Pilot Program, which sends tax money to private schools including religious schools. Some parents have challenged the voucher program as government sponsorship of religion. The school district argues that because parents can choose a religious or non-religious school, there’s no conflict.

A lawyer asking Martinez to block the voucher pilot dismissed the county’s argument that parents, not schools, are the beneficiaries of the voucher program.

“The only reason the district makes out the checks to the parents is to get around the constitution,” said Matt Douglas, who called the scholarship program an “obvious and intentional ruse.”

However, Martinez also heard from a Douglas County parent who argued that her son has a type of autism and needs clearance to use one of the vouchers so her family can afford to send him to the proper school.

Highlands Ranch woman Diana Oakley said her son needs the voucher to receive a proper education because he can’t get one at the public schools.

“Inside those four walls, he doesn’t fit,” Oakley said.

The question is a pressing one because Douglas County says it has already sent checks for some 270 students for use at private institutions. More than 200 additional students are on a waiting list for vouchers.

Lawyers trying to block the voucher program argued that the county wants to hurry the pilot program and cited emails from officials discussing its possible expansion.

“They have pressed the envelope … as far as they can,” said another lawyer for the plaintiffs, Michael McCarthy. “They will keep pressing that envelope unless you stop them.”

– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

LINK: Choice Scholarship Pilot Program

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


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