- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2003

DENVER, April 16 (UPI) — Republican Gov. Bill Owens signed legislation Wednesday making Colorado the first state to enact school vouchers since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was constitutional last year in a Cleveland case.

"Today we enact the most far-reaching parental choice program in America," Owens said in a ceremony on the steps of the Capitol. "This is another step forward in our efforts to offer a quality education to every child in Colorado. Today, we empower thousands of Colorado families to choose the best school for their children."

The Colorado Opportunity Contract Pilot Program begins in the fall of 2004 and could affect about 20,000 kindergarten through 12th grade students when fully implemented in eligible school districts.

Districts with at least eight or more underperforming schools would send qualifying low-income students to private or parochial schools if parents requested it. Other districts could adopt the program if they wished.

"We are opening the doors of opportunity to thousands of children," Owens said. "Today, we send a powerful message that our education system exists for one simple reason: to provide access to a quality education for every children."

Critics of the school voucher law say it violates two provisions of the Colorado Constitution, and they are considering filing a lawsuit after the Legislature adjourns May 7. Owens counters that the Supreme Court ruling last summer settled that question.

"This is a sad day for our children, our state and our Constitution," said Ron Brady, president of the Colorado Education Association. "It's astonishing that the governor has signed a piece of legislation so clearly in violation of Colorado's Constitution."

The CEA, which represents 36,000 teachers, is one of several groups considering a legal challenge to the new school voucher law.

"The Constitution is very clear that neither the state nor school districts shall appropriate funds to sectarian institutions or to any institution not under the absolute control of the state," Brady said.

Colorado voters rejected vouchers in a statewide vote in 1992, 66 percent to 34 percent. A poll conducted in February by Harstad Strategic Research for the CEA found that 60 percent of those surveyed opposed school vouchers.



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