A Colorado school board laundered tax-raised dollars twice to support religious schools; but in August, Colorado District Judge Michael Martinez struck down the program as a violation of state law.
The U.S. Supreme Court rationalizes “money laundering when it comes to Establishment Clause cases that involve financial aid to sectarian schools,” wrote Professor Stanley Fish of Florida International University in April, in the N.Y. Times.
The U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause forbids government advancement of religion.
Fish quoted the Court’s decision upholding vouchers, “Where a government aid program provides aid to a broad class of citizens who in turn direct government aid to religious schools wholly as a result of their own genuine and independent private choice, the program is not readily subject to challenge under the Establishment Clause.” Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002)
For its first dollar wash, the Douglas County, Colorado School Board created a bogus charter school: a single district employee in an office.
The fake charter school enrolled children already accepted at private schools, and then delegated their education to the private schools. Most of the private schools advanced religion throughout their programs.
For the second dollar wash, the charter school sent restrictively endorsed tuition checks to the private schools. Officials make out such checks to parents, but nobody can cash them until parents endorse them to private schools.
Restrictive endorsement makes sure parents don’t treat the money as their own and spend it on something they like better than religious education for their children.
Colorado Department of Education officials worked with the school board to develop the program, but backed away when citizens sued. The department’s representative testified that it hadn’t decided whether to fund the scheme.
Each tuition check paid 75% of the state funds allotted to the district for the education of that child. The district kept the other 25%.
Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Martinez recognized that vouchers transfer money from taxpayers to religious schools.
He ruled that the Douglas County vouchers violated five different provisions of the Colorado constitution as well as two state statutes.
State Constitutional Violations
1. The program “takes public funds intended to support public schools and uses them instead to help support…[schools] controlled by churches or religious denominations.”
2. It “compels taxpayers, through the use of funds provided by the Public School Finance Act, to support the churches and religious organizations that own, operate, and control many of the private religious schools that are participating.”
3. It “subjects scholarship recipients to religious admission criteria;…requires…recipients to attend religious services…; and…subjects…recipients to the teachings of religious tenets and doctrines.
4. It “provides taxpayer funds to sectarian institutions and to institutions not under absolute control of the state for nonpublic purposes.”
5. It “‘funnels’ money from the ‘public school fund’ to private schools, rather than to ‘schools of the state.’”
State Statute Violations
1. The Public School Finance Act apportions tax-raised funds based on the number of pupils who attend “schools of the state.” Under its voucher program, the Douglas County School District collects state money for pupils it doesn’t educate. Furthermore, it keeps 25% of those dollars, to secure more aid per actual student than other districts. It cheats other Colorado school districts.
2. A Colorado statute allows school districts to contract for educational services not offered by the public schools, such as foreign language instruction; but it does not allow a district to “contract with a private school to provide all educational services.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State back the plaintiffs, James LaRue and other school district parents, citizens and taxpayers.
Three families who enrolled children in private schools under the voucher program intervened in the suit as defendants. They have appealed Judge Martinez’ decision. The Institute for Justice, a pro-voucher legal group, backs them.