Vouchers, Choice, and Controversy

By Glenn Cook

Tamarah Quansah and Cynthia Cearley have a number of things in common beyond their roles as church pastors.

Described by friends and church members as loving, caring mothers, both are politically active and are among a growing number of female clergy in Colorado's largest city. Both believe government should have a role in helping underprivileged children succeed, and neither is too happy about how the Denver Public Schools have addressed the achievement gap between whites and low-income minority students.

What Quansah and Cearley want to do about this problem, however, is where the similarities end. Quansah, who operates a small church school in one of Denver's poorest sections, supports school vouchers. Cearley, a pastor in one of the city's most affluent neighborhoods, is part of a lawsuit to stop a state-run voucher program that could serve up to 20,000 Colorado students.

Today, because of that lawsuit, the Colorado Opportunity Contract Pilot Program is on hold. On Dec. 3, Denver District Judge Joseph Meyer issued an injunction that prevents the state from implementing the voucher plan this fall in 11 of Colorado's 178 school districts.

Meyer's decision, which was appealed immediately by state leaders, likely is the first of numerous legal steps that Colorado's voucher advocates and opponents will take in the coming months and years. Somewhat ironically, it came the day after the U.S. Supreme Court heard Locke v. Davey -- its second case in the past two years on the public funding of religious education.

The ultimate fate of the Colorado program and Locke v. Davey, a higher education case with strong K-12 implications, is unknown. But both illustrate the many twists and turns -- as well as a dash of well-litigated irony -- that characterize the voucher debate across the nation.

"I wish it wasn't this way," Quansah says. "But it is." 

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