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Fate of Douglas County’s high-profile voucher program to be weighed at special meeting

The nation's second largest teachers union is spending $300,000 to support a slate of candidates running for the Douglas County school board. Those candidates posed for pictures at their campaign kick-off event are from left, Krista Holtzmann, Anthony Graziano, Chris Schor, and Kevin Leung. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)
The nation's second largest teachers union is spending $300,000 to support a slate of candidates running for the Douglas County school board. Those candidates posed for pictures at their campaign kick-off event are from left, Krista Holtzmann, Anthony Graziano, Chris Schor, and Kevin Leung. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

The newly configured Douglas County school board is expected next week to discuss — and possibly end — the district’s controversial private-school voucher program.

David Ray, who was named board president by his peers Tuesday, announced the Dec. 4 meeting to consider the future of the voucher program, and provided little in detail beyond that. The board is also expected to weigh a potential superintendent search at the same meeting.

Tuesday was the first meeting of the suburban Denver school board since the election, which saw four candidates who oppose vouchers trounce their opponents. The district’s voucher program, which never was put into practice and has been tied up in courts since 2011, was one of the election’s most contentious issues.

The four winning candidates — Krista Holtzmann, Chris Schor, Anthony Graziano and Kevin Leung — were sworn in Tuesday. They joined three existing members — Ray, Anne-Marie Lemieux and Wendy Vogel. All seven are ideologically aligned and generally oppose the direction of the former board majority’s policies.

That puts the voucher program in striking distance.

While the Douglas County school board can terminate the program unilaterally, ending the protracted legal battle isn’t up to them. The school district’s general counsel, William E. Trachman, said he Colorado Supreme Court will have the final say as to whether the legal challenge can end.

The program, known as the Douglas County Choice Scholarship program, was created in 2010 by the county’s school board, which was controlled by seven conservative members. It was meant to provide as many as 500 Douglas County families a chance to use tax dollars for private school tuition.

After a lawsuit was filed by some Dougals County residences, a Denver District Court judge blocked the program from taking off.

In 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled the program unconstitutional. However, the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year ordered the state court to reconsider its opinion.

Some conservative education reform advocates and other private-school voucher supporters had hoped a U.S. Supreme Court victory would help set a national precedent for vouchers — especially in states such as Colorado which have provisions against sending state tax dollars to religious institutions.

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