Tag Archive for Douglas County School District

Scott Gessler agrees with Kaye Fissinger

Scott GesslerScott Gessler agrees with Kaye Fissinger.  Bet that got your attention.  He didn’t do it on purpose, of course.  It simply served his partisan objective, at least this time.

What in the world could I be talking about, you ask.

As might be recalled, not long ago I pressed the point that non-partisan elections simply mean that political parties and their registered voters do not determine candidates in a primary for a general election against candidates from competing political parties. I stressed that it does not mean that candidates have no political affiliation or that they don’t bring ideological affinities to a non-partisan office.

Some sought to take issue what that description, insisting that they and their favored candidates were pure as the driven snow.  (And we know how long snow remains pure after it has been driven.)  And that they (in our case, city council/mayor candidates) are blank political slates on which each issue begins to write anew.

Along comes Scott Gessler, Colorado Secretary of State, to say, “Uh, no.  That’s not the way it works.”

Douglas County has a hot school board race.  Hot because it is sharply divided between pro-voucher candidates and anti-voucher candidates.  It’s a fight to see who will control the school board going forward.  Douglas County School District is being sued by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union over its voucher plan that would provide substantial school tuition assistance for students to attend religious schools and/or to attend schools outside the normal district boundaries.  The Douglas Country voucher program is currently under court injunction preventing the program from going forward.

School board challenger Susan Meek filed a complaint with Gessler’s office claiming her opponent Craig Richardson along with Justin Green Williams and Kevin Larsen, are running as a Republican Party slate.  She contends that this is a legal violation because the races are non-partisan.  Meek used as evidence fliers that proclaim her opponents as the Douglas County Republican Party’s choices for the school board.

After scratching their collective head for awhile, Gessler’s office found that the statute calling for nonpartisan school board elections applies to how candidates file for office, not how the campaign for it.  A candidate cannot file for the school board as a Republican or Democrat, but he or she can run as one.

Scott Gessler is a Republican who ran for the office of Secretary of State in a partisan election.  The three pro-voucher candidates are incumbents who have the largest campaign war chests funded by longtime school-reform and Republican activists.  Meek and three challengers oppose vouchers.  The pro-voucher candidates are predictably using smoke and mirrors to camouflage their pro-voucher stands, preferring instead to use the standard Republican whipping boy – unions.  (Big bad bogeymen.  Can’t have that.)

So the upshot of this is that Fissinger (that’s me) was right and the Republican Golden Boy Scott Gessler says so.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

School district maneuvers to avoid First Amendment lawsuit

The Douglas County School District has added a new wrinkle to the proposed voucher plan. They now plan to expand eligible private schools to as far as ten miles outside county boundaries. Why would they propose such an unorthodox provision? The answer to that question can be found in the district’s concern over being sued for providing taxpayer dollars to religious schools.

The Douglas County School District has an unusual uniformity in its private schools. Thirteen of the 14 schools within the district are all religious schools. It’s mighty darn hard to argue in court that there is no motivation or intent to support religion when the only voucher choices are faith-based institutions.

The new boundaries substantially increase the number of eligible schools and allow the district to argue that there is no bias, no promotion of religion. These expanded boundaries increase the number of eligible schools from 14 to about 105, changing the percentage of religious schools from nearly 100% to about half.

The district is also hoping to protect itself in court by having a provision for students to opt-out of religious instruction. That sounds reasonable on the surface. However, most Christian schools do not confine themselves to biblical instruction during a confined course of instruction, but instead infuse the entire curricula with their religious positions.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which devotes itself to preserving the Constitutional prohibition in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, has already communicated its serious concerns about the avenue that the Douglas County School District is pursuing. On November 16, 2010, American United sent the district a four-page letter outlining its opposition to the district’s voucher plan. The district would be well-advised to scrap the plan now and spare itself a costly and protracted court battle that in all likelihood it cannot win.

In its letter to the Douglas County school board dated November, 16, 2010, Americans United describes the educational approach of religious schools that would make it impossible to segregate the use of taxpayer funds from religious purposes.

“Most religious schools are part of the ministry of the sponsoring church. Because religious indoctrination is an important part of these ministries, the schools integrate religion throughout their curriculum and require all students to receive religious instruction and attend religious services. Thus, there would be no way to prevent the publicly funded vouchers from paying for these institutions’ religious activities and education. The vouchers would be unrestricted in their use and would pay for all aspects of a religious education, including worship, proselytization, and religious items such as Bibles.”

As an alternative to prevent this or any other voucher plan, State Senator Evie Hudak, who is vice chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, may seek an amendment to bar the use of state funds for vouchers in the school-finance bill.

Those who are elected to school boards have a responsibility from a number of perspectives to provide for superior public education of the students it serves. It is unacceptable, indeed reprehensible, to use those positions to advance religious instruction or pursue privatization of education whether by voucher, by charter schools or by facilitating home schooling.

Parents who object to or are dissatisfied with public education already have the option to chose alternative schools. However, they are not entitled to public funds for those purposes. Those dollars are a public pact for public education amongst generations past and present, with or without school-age children, for the betterment of our civil and secular society. There has never been, nor should there ever be, a personal or individual entitlement to any of these funds.

Americans United issues warning to DougCo School District

Is Colorado becoming the playground for chipping away at the U.S. Constitution? With Colorado Springs the hotbed for religious fundamentalism, more correctly Dominionism, Colorado would seem a ripe candidate. After all, Colorado Springs is the home of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and New Life Church whose former pastor was Ted Haggard.

The Douglas County School District (DougCo) is earnestly considering a voucher program. Is it a coincidence Colorado Springs attorney Eric Hall helped create the draft policy. I doubt it. To get the results you want, you have to pick the “right” people to make it happen. An Internet search reveals that Hall has:

• represented a religious college in litigation to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals
• represented a Baptist church in First Amendment litigation to Colorado Court of Appeals
• briefed and argued a religious liberty case to Colorado Supreme Court, and
• serves as general counsel to charter schools throughout Colorado

Hall says that Douglas County may be the only school district in the country that has developed its own voucher rule. Couple Hall’s appearances in court on schools and religion with his position a counsel for charter schools and the motive for the DougCo program is vividly apparent.

According to the Denver Post, “School board members believe students need more choices and convened a committee in June to examine all options that could be available for students, including home schooling, online classes and charter schools.” Although charter schools have drawn the most attention, it should not go unnoticed that this program also includes homeschooling. Parents who choose homeschooling do so primarily to isolate their children from curricula with which they disagree.

Charice Russell, who headed the voucher subcommittee, insists that charter schools are necessary “to provide educational choice and improve competition.” Yet multiple studies show that vouchers neither improve educational outcomes for students nor does so-called competition improve public schools.

Beyond the evidence that charter schools fail to substantiate their proponents assertions, American United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) has registered their concerns with the Douglas County school board on the religious school component of this proposed Option Certificate Program.

The program does not prohibit students currently attending private schools from obtaining a voucher. Obviously, parents of these students are likely to apply for these vouchers to reduce their existing costs for religious school tuition. Thousands of these students will be added to the educational costs of the district as well as to the costs for the State of Colorado. AU points out that this is “not free money” as it comes from the State’s budget for per pupil spending.

AU reports that all Douglas County private schools for students above the first grade are Christian schools, which means there are no secular alternatives.

In its letter to the DougCo school board dated November, 16, 2010, AU describes the educational approach of religious schools that would make it impossible to segregate the use of taxpayer funds from religious purposes.

“Most religious schools are part of the ministry of the sponsoring church. Because religious indoctrination is an important part of these ministries, the schools integrate religion throughout their curriculum and require all students to receive religious instruction and attend religious services. Thus, there would be no way to prevent the publicly funded vouchers from paying for these institutions’ religious activities and education. The vouchers would be unrestricted in their use and would pay for all aspects of a religious education, including worship, proselytization, and religious items such as Bibles.”

Therefore, AU described the proposed program as “constitutionally suspect” and cites Zelman v Simmons-Harris ruling against vouchers that provide an impermissible “financial incentive” that “skews” vouchers “toward religious schools.”

Articles in the Denver Post indicate that there is a significant majority on the school board who is determined to have the taxpayer pay for religious education and who believe that Hall’s background protects them from losing in court. They recognize that there will be a court challenge should they institute this program. Board member Craig Richardson seems to believe that if the district starts small, the matter may actually slip in under the legal radar, or at least cost less to defend.

As the letter from Americans United indicates, the actions of Douglas County School District are, indeed, on the radar. DougCo would do well to scrap this program now before the matter ends up in court – unless that’s what it wants. Perhaps they are counting on the U.S. Supreme Court to create yet another coup by additional rewriting of the Constitution’s First Amendment.