DENVER -- A state judge declared Colorado's new school voucher law unconstitutional yesterday, saying it illegally strips local school boards of control over education.
Denver District Judge Joseph Meyer issued an injunction barring implementation of the voucher law, the first in the nation since the US Supreme Court said last year that voucher programs were acceptable.
"I see no way to interpret the voucher program statute in a way that does not run afoul of the principle of local control," he wrote. "The goals of the voucher program are laudable. However, even great ideas must be implemented within the framework of the Colorado Constitution."
The court challenge to the program, which was to start early next year, was filed by a coalition of teachers, religious groups, and education advocates.
Jeanne Beyer, spokeswoman for the Colorado Education Association, which represents about 37,000 teachers across the state, said the ruling sends a strong message to state lawmakers who approved the plan.
"Vouchers cannot happen if school districts are not involved," she said.
Attorney General Ken Salazar said he will ask the judge to lift the injunction during the appeal, and Governor Bill Owens criticized the decision.
"Children from low-income families should not be facing a dead end if they are in a school that is below par," said Owens, a Republican.
Scott Flores, who has three school-age children, chastised teachers' union officials who said at a news conference that they would not support any program that takes money from public schools.
"You don't think parents know what is better for their children?" he asked.
The Colorado law required $4,500 vouchers to be offered to children in kindergarten through 12th grade to help offset private school tuition.
Under the law, 11 districts with eight or more schools that received low or unsatisfactory academic performance ratings were required to take part in the program. Other participation was voluntary.
State budget officials estimated a fully operational program would strip the 11 districts of $90 million a year.
Last year, the Supreme Court narrowly rejected a challenge to the voucher program in Cleveland, saying the program was acceptable because it offers parents a wide choice of private schools.