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by Durango Herald
Thursday, Apr. 10, 2003 at 8:25 AM
DENVER – Colorado will soon become the first state to initiate public-school vouchers since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling declared such programs constitutional.
Republican Gov. Bill Owens is expected to sign a bill into law this month that will allow public schools to pay private or religious schools to educate poor children. Other states, including Texas and Louisiana, are considering similar plans.
Owens, who campaigned for vouchers as a legislator, said approval of the plan was a milestone.
"It sends a powerful message that our education system exists for one simple reason, to provide access to a quality education for every child," he said.
A goal of conservatives for years, vouchers were twice rejected by Colorado voters. But the bill was pushed through the Legislature after Republicans won control in November’s elections, with supporters saying it will give weak students a better education and force public schools to improve.
Democratic lawmakers say the voucher program could cost public schools as much as $200 million in state aid.
The Colorado Education Association, representing 36,000 teachers, is considering a legal challenge. It says the bill may violate guarantees against giving tax dollars to religious institutions or any school not under control of the state.
"The Legislature is blatantly ignoring both the Constitution of the state of Colorado and the express wishes of the voters," CEA President Ron Brady said.
Last June, the Supreme Court ruled that school vouchers are constitutional if they provide parents a choice among a range of religious and secular schools. The court endorsed a pilot program in Cleveland under which parents may use a tax-supported education stipend to remove their kids from one of the nation’s worst public-school systems.
The issue is still a source of turmoil within various state courts, even as lawmakers in as many as 20 states consider school voucher legislation, according to the Education Commission of the States in Denver. Last year, 24 states studied the issue but none enacted a law.
Voucher programs have been around for more than a decade.
A program in Milwaukee, which was the nation’s first when it began in 1990, has more than 10,800 students in 103 private schools. The Cleveland program, started in 1996, gives preference to the poor who want to send their children to private schools or nearby public schools.
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