Category Archives: Blaine Amendments

New Evidence Reveals Why 19th Century Bans on Sectarian Aid are Unconstitutional

I misinterpret things my mom tells me to do all the time. Somehow “pick up your toys” sounds a lot like “go watch T.V.” when my favorite show is on. Those phrases are interchangeable to me. But, treating words that aren’t synonyms as interchangeable can have consequences–as I find out when my mom catches me watching Nickelodeon instead of doing my chores. In recent years, the meaning of sectarian has been conflated with the meaning of religious–especially in the debate surrounding Blaine Amendments. In his article in the Federalist Society Review, “Why Nineteenth Century Bans on ‘Sectarian’ Aid Are Facially Unconstitutional: New Evidence on Plain Meaning,” the Independence Institute’s constitutional jurisprudence expert Rob Natelson defines the critical difference between “sectarian” and “religious,” and the consequences this misinterpretation has led to in private school choice. Mr. Natelson’s article is comprised of three primary sections that support his claim: 1. Nineteenth Century Constitutional Provisions Show that “Sectarian” Had a Meaning Separate from “Religious” or “Denominational” This section focuses on the drafting of state constitutions and how the terms religious, denominational, and sectarian are used separately. Each has a distinguished meaning and are not used interchangeably in their respective clauses. 2. The Nineteenth […]

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Adults Sometimes don’t Play Nice

Just last week, the newly elected Douglas County school board voted to officially abolish the district’s innovative school voucher program. Consequently, the district will also be rescinding its involvement in the Supreme Court case that will determine the constitutionality of voucher programs here in Colorado. Ross Izard, the senior fellow of the Independence Institute Education Policy Center and a noteworthy supporter of the “choice” defendants of the DougCo case, wrote an affecting op-ed titled A suburban school board just set back educational opportunity for all Americans that was published in The Hill and describes the consequences of removing the groundbreaking voucher program from Douglas County. Douglas County’s voucher program has long been in the spotlight– the constitutionality of Blaine Amendments was originally questioned and brought to court in 2011. Since then it has been a divisive debate, especially so in this year’s school board election. Other events, such as the role Betsy DeVos in school choice, have additionally stoked the fire of the school voucher debate, putting the DougCo decision on a national stage. Following the results of the election, the union backed, anti-school choice board members have dictated the end of a unique program that had the potential to bring improved […]

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Union Wins Bragging Rights

The Douglas County School Board election results were disappointing: The union backed, anti-reform slate of candidates won with the help of a last minute, 300,000-dollar push by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Douglas County’s unique district funded school-voucher program will likely, but not certainly, end. Pam Benigno, the director of the Education Policy Center at the Independence Institute, elaborated on the results of the election in The Denver Post, stating that: “No doubt they [the union backed slate] will end the [Choice Scholarship] program and no longer defend it through the court system. No doubt the union’s prize for winning the election will be a collective bargaining agreement and national bragging rights that they killed the nation’s first local school board voucher program.” While strong union involvement was an important factor in the election, the union backed candidates were also able to capitalize on the current political environment. The Trump/DeVos hysteria, when paired with the recent criticism of charter schools by groups such as the ACLU and NAACP, has created political turmoil that has masked the success of school choice programs across the county. These forces have created uncertainty about the legitimacy of charter schools, and reintroduced the stale […]

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AFT “so far” pumps $600,000 into School Board Race

Remember the Douglas County School Board race? The Toxic-Trio, tire scraps, Blaine Amendments, and what not? Of course you do. The Doug Co race has been one of Colorado’s most eminent issues for months. Well, mail-in ballots have arrived in homes, and with just minutes to go in the bottom of the ninth, the nation’s second largest teacher’s union has made a desperate attempt to sway the outcome of the election in its favor. The Douglas County School Board race has garnered much national attention–and rightly so. It will not only determine the fate of private school choice in Douglas County, but could determine the constitutionality of Blaine clauses in Colorado. It’s a pivotal moment in education, which is why the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is adamantly attempting to manipulate the election to fit its political agenda. Ross Izard, senior policy analyst at the Independence Institute and my favorite policy nerd, details the recent uncovering of an additional 300,000-dollar donation AFT made to the Douglas County race (after its initial 300,000-contribution) in his op-ed A national teachers’ union’s war machine is on the move in Colorado, which was published in The Hill. In total, AFT has donated 600,000 dollars to […]

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Summer break was exciting for school choice!

It has been a long summer break, but I’m back watching over education in Colorado!  And, oh my, what a summer it has been for school choice! On June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 7-2 in favor of tire scraps. Huh?  Tire scraps? That’s right, tire scraps. A private, church-affiliated preschool in Missouri applied for the provisioning of tire scraps for playground resurfacing under a state grant program, but was turned down because of their church affiliation under the Missouri State Constitution’s Blaine clauses.  The school challenged the decision in court.  The case, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, made it all the way to our country’s high court, which decided that First Amendment freedom of religion rights supersede the discriminatory Blaine clauses of Missouri’s State Constitution.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision means that just because the preschool was affiliated with a church, that should not prevent them from being eligible for the State’s tire scrap grant program. Okay, why should Colorado care about tire scraps in Missouri? In light of this ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to rule on another Blaine-related case—the case regarding Douglas County School District’s Choice Scholarship Program (CSP). Let’s back up […]

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Trinity Lutheran Gets Its Day in Court

This week is a big week in the world of education law. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up its first case related to state constitutional Blaine clauses. We talked about these ugly little pieces of constitutional language in some detail last week when I highlighted the Independence Institute’s new paper, Blaine’s Shadow: Politics, Discrimination, and School Choice. Check out that paper if you need some historical background on Blaine clauses and what they mean for education today. Before you ask, the court isn’t considering the Dougco voucher case tomorrow. We’re still waiting to find out whether SCOTUS will hear that one. Instead, the high court will hear oral arguments in Trinity Lutheran v. Pauley, which deals with a Blaine-related case out of Missouri. We’ve talked about that case in passing over the year or so since I wrote about it in detail, but a refresher is probably in order. From my previous post: Here’s the skinny: Missouri runs a program under which organizations can apply to the state for grants. That’s not unusual. But here’s the trick: these “grants” do not come in the form of money. They come in the form of scrap rubber. That rubber is used […]

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History! Blaine's Shadow Tells an Important Story

James G. Blaine. You’ve heard that name before, right? Of course you have. I’ve written about Congressman Blaine a number of times, usually in the context of Douglas County’s ongoing legal battle against so-called “Blaine Amendments” through its first-of-its-kind local voucher program. Or maybe I should say programs (plural), as the district’s other voucher program made things pretty complicated for a while before a debatable court decision and a new decision by the board put an end to most of the legal craziness. But while we’ve talked a fair amount about Blaine and the state constitutional clauses named after him, I’m not sure we’ve ever really known the full story. There’s a lot of important history and drama and politics buried behind the simple narrative that most folks just don’t know.  Ross Izard, my favorite policy nerd, set out to tell that story—and to explain why it matters from a constitutional perspective—in his most recent issue paper, Blaine’s Shadow: Politics, Discrimination, and School Choice. 

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New Dougco Ruling Stretches Logic, Hampers Choice

Yesterday, we celebrated the continuing success of public school choice by taking a look at some very encouraging findings in Colorado’s public charter school sector. I mentioned in the post that despite the rapid expansion of charter schools, demand is far outstripping supply when it comes to school choice—there are thousands of students on charter waiting lists and in lottery pools across the state. Yet even as I type this, between 10,000 and 15,000 seats sit empty in Colorado private schools. Each of those seats represents the opportunity to change a student’s life, but that doesn’t stop choice opponents from fighting tooth and nail to shut down any attempt to open the door to those opportunities. Sadly, these opponents scored another win against choice in Douglas County last week when 2nd Judicial District Court Chief Judge Michael Martinez—the very same judge who blocked the original Dougco voucher program in 2011—ruled that the district’s new local voucher program, which excludes faith-based schools, is still bound by the Colorado Supreme Court’s sweeping 2015 ruling under Colorado’s Blaine Amendment.

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Catching up on Some Exciting Policy Work

It’s Friday! Birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and Little Eddie is wearing shorts at work. That’s right, shorts. I’ll be putting those shorts to good use this afternoon when I head to the Denver zoo for a fun safari. You probably guessed that all of that information is leading to the part where I say that today’s post will be quick and easy. You are correct. There’s a ton of stuff to talk about, including a disturbingly Masters-like state supreme court ruling on teacher tenure in North Carolina, the Colorado Senate Education Committee’s laudable work in passing Senate Bill 16-188 on equitable charter funding last night, and a whole raft of new and interesting research. We’ll get to all that—or at least a lot of it. For now, though, I think it would be good to catch you up on some of the very cool work being done by my policy friends at the Independence Institute. In fact, let’s do that with a list. Everyone likes lists.

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Dougco Restarts Its Voucher Program, Minus Religious Schools

Just last week, we covered some Jeffco-tinted news about a student walkout/protest in Douglas County School District.  But those aren’t the only waves Dougco has made recently, or even the most important. No, the most exciting news to come out of the district is that the conservative board majority voted Tuesday to restart its local voucher program, the first of its kind in the nation. This time, however, those pesky religious schools will have to sit out—along with any of the kids who wanted to attend them. The new program, now called the School Choice Grant Program, explicitly prohibits religious schools from participating. It also revisits the old program’s contentious charter school funding mechanism (and funding amounts), though that’s a conversation for another day. For now, let’s focus on the religious aspect. Most of you already know about the original Choice Scholarship Program, so we won’t spend a lot of recounting all of the details. It’s been a while since we talked about the Dougco case’s legal slog in any detail, though, so I think it’s a good idea to pause and consider what’s going on here and what it means.

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