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Taxpayers for Pub. Educ. v. Douglas County Sch. Dist.

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fourth Division

February 28, 2013

Taxpayers for Public Education; Cindra S. Barnard; Marson S. Barnard; James LaRue; Suzanne T. Larue; Interfaith Alliance of Colorado; Rabbi Joel R. Schwartzman; Reverend Malcolm Himschoot; Kevin Leung; Christian Moreau; Maritza Carrera; and Susan McMahon, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
Douglas County School District; Douglas County Board of Education; Colorado State Board of Education; and Colorado Department of Education, Defendants-Appellants and Florence and Derrick Doyle, on their own behalf and as next friends of their children, A.D. and D.D.; Diana and Mark Oakley, on their own behalf and as next friends of their child, N.O.; Jeanette Strohm-Anderson and Mark Anderson, on their own behalf and as next friends of their child, M.A., Intervenors-Appellants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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City and County of Denver District Court Nos. 11CV4424 & 11CV4427. Honorable Michael A. Martinez, Judge.

Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Michael S. McCarthy, Colin C. Deihl, Caroline G. Lee, Thomas A. Olsen, Denver, Colorado; Alexander Halpern LLC, Alexander Halpern, Boulder, Colorado, for Plaintiffs-Appellees Taxpayers for Public Education, Cindra S. Barnard, and Mason S. Barnard.

Arnold & Porter LLP, Matthew J. Douglas, Timothy R. Macdonald, Michelle K. Albert, Denver, Colorado; American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado, Mark Silverstein, Sara Rich, Denver Colorado; ACLU Foundation Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Daniel Mach, Heather L. Weaver, Washington, D.C.; Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Ayesha N. Khan, Alex J. Luchenitser, Washington, D.C., for Plaintiffs-Appellees James LaRue, Suzanne T. Larue, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, Rabbi Joel R. Schwartzman, Reverend Malcolm Himschoot, Kevin Leung, Christian Moreau, Maritza Carrera, and Susan McMahon.

Rothgerber Johnson & Lyons, LLP, James M. Lyons, Eric V. Hall, Denver, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellants Douglas County School District and Douglas County Board of Education.

John W. Suthers, Attorney General, Daniel D. Domenico, Solicitor General, Antony Dyl, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Frederick R. Yarger, Assistant Solicitor General, Denver, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellants Colorado State Board of Education and Colorado Department of Education.

Institute for Justice, William H. Mellor, Arlington, Virginia; Michael E. Bindas, Seattle, Washington; Timothy D. Keller, Tempe, Arizona; Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP, Raymond L. Gifford, Denver, Colorado, for Intervenors-Appellants.

The Legal Center, Randy L. Parcel, Chester R. Chapman, Denver, Colorado, for Amicus Curiae The Legal Center for People with Disabilities and Older People.

Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine, PC, Stephen Burg, Daniel McKenzie, Englewood, Colorado, for Amicus Curiae Anti-Defamation League.

Husch Blackwell LLP, Jeffrey A. Chase, Elizabeth L. Harris, Denver, Colorado, for Amici Curiae American Federation of Teachers and American Association of School Administrators.

Bryan Cave HRO, Stuart Lark, Colorado Springs, Colorado, for Amici Curiae Association of Christian Schools International, Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs, Shepherd of the Hills Christian School, and Valor Christian High School.

Sparks Willson Borges Brandt & Johnson, P.C., Scott W. Wilson, Colorado Springs, Colorado, for Amicus Curiae The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Kutz & Bethke LLC, William P. Bethke, Lakewood, Colorado, for Amicus Curiae Vision Home & Community, Inc.

Graham, J., concurs. Bernard, J., dissents.



Page 837

[¶1] In 2011, the Douglas County Board of Education (County Board) adopted the Choice Scholarship Program (CSP). Pursuant to the CSP, parents of eligible elementary school, middle school, and high school students residing in the Douglas County School District (District) may choose to have their children attend certain private schools, including some with religious affiliation. The District would pay parents of participating students " scholarships" covering some of the cost of tuition at those schools, and the parents would then remit the scholarship money to the schools.

[¶2] Plaintiffs are nonprofit organizations, Douglas County taxpayers, District students, and parents of District students. They filed suit to enjoin implementation of the CSP, claiming that it violates the Public School Finance Act of 1994, sections 22-54-101 to -135, C.R.S. 2012 (the Act), and various provisions of the Colorado Constitution.[1]

[¶3] Following a hearing on plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, the district court found that the CSP violates the Act and most of the constitutional provisions at issue. The court permanently enjoined implementation of the CSP.

[¶4] We conclude that plaintiffs do not have standing to seek redress for a claimed violation of the Act, and that the CSP does not violate any of the constitutional provisions on which plaintiffs rely. Therefore, we reverse the district court's judgment and remand the case for entry of judgment in defendants' favor.

I. Background

A. The CSP

[¶5] We glean the facts largely from the district court's written order and, to the extent uncontested, testimony given and exhibits admitted during the preliminary injunction hearing.

[¶6] The District created a task force to study a variety of school choice strategies for District students. The task force submitted a report to the District identifying about thirty strategies for improving school choice, and submitted a plan for implementing one of those strategies, the CSP, to the County Board. In March 2011, the County Board approved the CSP on a " pilot program" basis for the 2011-2012 school year, limited to 500 students. The following aspects of the CSP bear on the issues raised by the parties.

o The purposes of the CSP are " to provide greater educational choice for students

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and parents to meet individualized student needs, improve educational performance through competition, and obtain a high return of investment of [District] educational spending."
o Private schools, including private schools that are not located in Douglas County, may apply to participate in the CSP.
o Private schools applying to participate in the CSP must provide information about a variety of matters, and must satisfy a variety of eligibility criteria, some of which relate to academic rigor, accreditation, student conduct, and financial stability. Participating private schools must agree to allow the District to administer assessment tests to District students participating in the CSP.
o Participating private schools are prohibited from discriminating " on any basis protected under applicable federal or state law." But, the CSP does not require as a condition of participation that any private school modify employment or enrollment standards that are based on religious beliefs.
o The CSP provides for District oversight of private schools' compliance with program requirements, and reserves to the District the ability to withhold payments or terminate participation for noncompliance.
o Thirty-four private schools applied to participate in the CSP for the 2011-2012 school year. The District contracted with twenty-three of those schools.
o Of the twenty-three private schools contracting with the District, fourteen are located outside Douglas County, and sixteen teach religious tenets or beliefs. Many are funded at least in part by and affiliated with particular religious organizations.
o Many of the participating private schools base admissions decisions at least in part on students' and parents' religious beliefs and practices. Many also require students to attend religious services. However, the CSP expressly gives students the right to " receive a waiver from any required religious services at the [participating private school]." [2]
o Students are eligible to participate in the CSP only if they are District residents (open-enrolled students are not eligible), have resided in the District for at least one year, and were enrolled in District public schools during the 2010-2011 school year. Any such student desiring to participate in the CSP must complete an application to be submitted to the District and must agree to take state assessment tests.
o Students accepted by the District to participate in the CSP are formally enrolled in the Choice Scholarship Charter School (Charter School). The Charter School administers the CSP, contracting with the participating private schools and monitoring students' class schedules and attendance at participating private schools. It does not have a building, teachers, or curriculum.
o Each student accepted to participate in the CSP must also be accepted for enrollment in a participating private school chosen by the student's parents. The CSP encourages students and parents to investigate participating private schools' " admission criteria, dress codes and expectations of participation in school programs, be they religious or nonreligious."
o The sole source of funding for the CSP is the total " per pupil revenue" received by the District for the Charter School pursuant to section 22-30.5-112(2)(a.5), C.R.S. 2012. The fund of money from which " per pupil revenue" is distributed comprises District property and other ownership taxes and state revenue. § § 22-54-103(11), -104.1, -106(1)(a)(I), C.R.S. 2012.[3]

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The District counts all students enrolled in the Charter School toward its total pupil count for purposes of receiving per pupil revenue. See § 22-54-103(10) (defining " pupil enrollment" for purposes of calculating per pupil revenue).
o For each student participating in the CSP, the District (acting through the Charter School) pays scholarships of the lesser of the participating private school's charged tuition or seventy-five percent of the " per pupil revenue" received by the District. (The District retains the remaining twenty-five percent.) The participating student's parents are responsible for paying any difference. The District estimated that per pupil revenue for the 2011-2012 school year would be $6,100, meaning that up to $4,575 could be paid for student tuition at a participating private school.
o The CSP provides that scholarship payments will be made by check, in four equal installments, to parents of participating students. Parents are required to then endorse the checks to the participating private schools.

B. The District Court Proceedings

[¶7] Plaintiffs, acting in two groups, filed complaints seeking a declaration that the CSP is unlawful and an order enjoining implementation of the CSP. Their claims are based on the Act and seven provisions of the Colorado Constitution. Plaintiffs named the Colorado Department of Education, the State Board, the County Board, and the District as defendants. The cases were consolidated.

[¶8] Defendants moved to dismiss the complaints for failure to state a claim for relief. Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction. The court held a three-day hearing on the motions for a preliminary injunction, after which the court issued a detailed written order denying defendants' motion to dismiss and finding that the CSP violates the Act and article II, section 4; article V, section 34; and article IX, sections 3, 7, and 8 of the Colorado Constitution. (The court found that the CSP does not violate two constitutional provisions on which plaintiffs rely, article IX, sections 2 and 15.)

[¶9] Acting sua sponte, the court permanently enjoined implementation of the CSP. The parties apparently agree that the court's order constitutes a final disposition of all claims.[4]

II. Discussion

[¶10] For clarity of analysis, we divide plaintiffs' claims into three groups: (1) claims alleging violations of statutory and constitutional provisions which concern state schools generally -- the Act and article IX, sections 2, 3, and 15; (2) claims alleging violations of constitutional provisions which concern aid to or support of religion and religious organizations -- article II, section 4, and article IX, sections 7 and 8; and (3) the claim alleging a violation of article V, section 34, which concerns appropriations generally and appropriations to religious organizations specifically.

A. Public Funding and Control Claims

1. The Act -- School Funding

[¶11] Plaintiffs claim that the CSP violates the Act because " [the District] will impermissibly use State monies distributed by the Colorado Department of Education to pay for private school tuition at private schools."

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See § 22-54-104(1)(a) (the amount calculated under the Act as the " financial base of support for public education in the district . . . shall be available to the district to fund the costs of providing public education" ). After rejecting defendants' challenge to plaintiffs' standing to seek judicial enforcement of the Act, the district court found that the CSP violates the Act because it " effectively results in an increased share of public funds to [the District] rather than to other state school districts." [5]

[¶12] We need not address the merits of plaintiffs' claim under the Act because we conclude that plaintiffs lack standing to bring it.

[¶13] Whether a plaintiff has standing to bring a particular claim presents a question of law that we review de novo. Barber v. Ritter, 196 P.3d 238, 245 (Colo. 2008); Ainscough v. Owens, 90 P.3d 851, 856 (Colo. 2004).

[¶14] To establish standing, a plaintiff suing in Colorado state court must establish that (1) it incurred an injury-in-fact; and (2) the injury was to a legally protected interest. Barber, 196 P.3d at 245; Ainscough, 90 P.3d at 855; Wimberly v. Ettenberg, 194 Colo. 163, 168, 570 P.2d 535, 538 (1977). Our inquiry here focuses on the second requirement.[6]

[¶15] In determining whether a statute gives a particular plaintiff a legally protected interest, we look to whether the General Assembly clearly intended to create a private right of action. Gerrity Oil & Gas Corp. v. Magness, 946 P.2d 913, 923 (Colo. 1997) (" [W]e will not infer a private right of action based on a statutory violation unless we discern a clear legislative intent to create such a cause of action." ). The Act does not expressly authorize a private cause of action to enforce its provisions. Therefore, we look to three factors to determine whether a private cause of action is clearly implied: (1) whether the plaintiffs are within the class of persons intended to be benefitted by the Act (specifically, by section 22-54-104(1)); (2) whether the General Assembly intended to create, albeit implicitly, a private right of action; and (3) whether an implied private right of action would be consistent with the purposes of the Act. Id.; Allstate Ins. Co. v. Parfrey, 830 P.2d 905, 911 (Colo. 1992).

[¶16] The district court recited these factors but did not engage in any substantive analysis of them. Instead, the court conclusorily ruled that certain plaintiffs' status as District students and parents of District students " confers a legal interest in the enforcement of the statutes enumerated in their claims." In so ruling, the district court erred.

[¶17] Assuming that the plaintiffs who are District students and parents of District students are within the class of persons intended to be benefitted by the Act, examination of the other two factors does not support the existence of a private cause of action.

[¶18] There is nothing in the language of the Act remotely suggesting that private citizens or groups have a right to seek judicial enforcement of its provisions. The Act expressly commits enforcement of its provisions to the State Board. § 22-54-120(1), C.R.S. 2012 (" The state board shall make reasonable rules and regulations necessary for the administration and enforcement of this article." ). And the Act provides a number of mechanisms for ensuring compliance with its funding scheme, none of which contemplate private enforcement. E.g., § § 22-54-104 (providing in detail how the State Board shall determine each district's total per pupil revenue), -114 to -115 (providing in detail how money in the state public school fund is to be appropriated and distributed), - 115(4) (providing means for the State Board to recover any overpayment of state moneys to a district), -129(6)(a)-(b) (providing that the State Board " shall promulgate rules . . . as necessary

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for the administration and enforcement of this section" ).

[¶19] Where, as here, a statute provides a means of enforcement, the designated remedy ordinarily excludes all others. See Gerrity Oil & Gas Corp., 946 P.2d at 924-25; cf. Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs v. Moreland, 764 P.2d 812, 817-21 (Colo. 1988) (statute which provided specific remedies for violations thereby indicated that the General Assembly had considered the issue of civil liability but had chosen not to make any provision therefor); Macurdy v. Faure, 176 P.3d 880, 883 (Colo.App. 2007) (statute which entrusted decision whether to perform an autopsy to government officials did not contemplate a private right of action to compel officials to perform an autopsy); Prairie Dog Advocates v. City of Lakewood, 20 P.3d 1203, 1208 (Colo.App. 2000) (statute which prohibited poisoning wildlife and subjected violators to penalties reserved enforcement to the state, and therefore did not create a private cause of action); Axtell v. Park Sch. Dist. R-3, 962 P.2d 319, 320-21 (Colo.App. 1998) (because Evaluation Act provided a specific remedy for violations by school districts -- withholding or suspension of accreditation by the State Board -- it did not create an independent private right of action); Minnick v. City & Cnty. of Denver, 784 P.2d 810, 812 (Colo.App. 1989) (city ordinance which imposed a prevailing wage requirement on public works projects, and which provided a remedy for violations -- withholding payments to contractors -- did not create a private right of action); Silverstein v. Sisters of Charity, 38 Colo.App. 286, 288-89, 559 P.2d 716, 718 (1976) (statute which provided a criminal penalty for violations did not allow a private civil action for damages; quoted with approval in Moreland ).

[¶20] Nor would recognizing a private cause of action be consistent with the Act's purposes. The Act addresses in a detailed way what is a rather vague constitutional requirement. See § 22-54-102(1), C.R.S. 2012 (the Act " is enacted in furtherance of the general assembly's duty under section 2 of article IX of the state constitution to provide for a thorough and uniform system of public schools throughout the state" ). It requires the responsible state agencies (the Colorado Department of Education and the State Board) to engage in constant evaluation and oversight of all local school districts and to manage large sums of money (in amounts which change annually, if not more frequently). As discussed, the State Board is also entrusted with enforcing the Act, and the Act provides mechanisms for the State Board to exercise that authority.

[¶21] In light of the scope and complexity of the statutory scheme, the responsible state agencies require a certain degree of discretion and flexibility in carrying out their oversight and enforcement responsibilities. We are persuaded that allowing private citizens to act as substitute boards of education by challenging districts' actions in court would interfere with the state agencies' efforts to meet their statutory obligations. And, it would introduce uncertainty into a process where little can be tolerated. Local school districts, for example, would not be able to rely on decisions of the state agencies if those decisions were open to court challenge by any disgruntled citizen.

[¶22] Therefore, consideration of the relevant factors leads us to conclude that plaintiffs do not have standing to bring a private cause of action seeking enforcement of the Act.

[¶23] We are not persuaded to the contrary by plaintiffs' arguments.

[¶24] Though plaintiffs argue that " absent a private right of action, the statute lacks any mechanism to hold an offending school district accountable," that is plainly not the case. See, e.g., § 22-54-115(4) (providing means of recouping overpayments to local school districts). Plaintiffs' ad hominem assertion that no enforcement mechanism exists because " the State Board has essentially colluded with the offending district" is unsupported by the record. And, in any event, plaintiffs cite no authority for the proposition that a private right of action must be allowed where the agency charged with enforcing a statute declines to act in a particular instance. Any such disagreement over the necessity of enforcement must be left to the political process.

[¶25] Nor does taxpayer status give plaintiffs standing. Taxpayer standing is

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recognized in the context of alleged constitutional violations. E.g., Barber, 196 P.3d at 245-47. Plaintiffs cite no authority holding that taxpayer status is sufficient to confer standing to seek judicial enforcement of a statute. Recognizing such standing would in most, if not all cases render unnecessary the standing analysis the supreme court has applied in this context for decades.

[¶26] Finally, the cases on which plaintiffs rely are distinguishable. In Board of County Commissioners v. Bainbridge, Inc., 929 P.2d 691 (Colo. 1996), the plaintiffs' claims alleged constitutional violations, id. at 696 n.6, and the court did not address standing. Likewise, the plaintiffs' claims in both Lobato v. State, 216 P.3d 29 (Colo.App. 2008), rev'd, 218 P.3d 358 (Colo. 2009), and Boulder Valley Sch. Dist. RE-2 v. Colo. State Bd. of Educ., 217 P.3d 918 (Colo.App. 2009), alleged violations of the state constitution. Lobato, 216 P.3d at 32, 35; Boulder Valley Sch. Dist., 217 P.3d at 921-22. As discussed, the standing analyses for constitutional and statutory claims are different: the standing inquiry for statutory claims is more rigorous.

[¶27] Because we have determined that plaintiffs do not have standing to seek judicial enforcement of the Act, we need not examine the parties' arguments on the merits.

2. Article IX, § 2 -- Thorough and Uniform System of Free Public Schools

[¶28] As relevant here, article IX, section 2 of the Colorado Constitution requires the General Assembly to " provide for the establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state . . . ." The district court found against plaintiffs on their claim alleging a violation of this provision because they had not presented " sufficient evidence that [the CSP] prevents students from otherwise obtaining a free education in Douglas County."

[¶29] On appeal, plaintiffs contend that the court erred in rejecting this claim because (1) students participating in the CSP are not educated gratuitously (as the CSP may cover only part of a participating student's private school tuition); (2) educational programs at the participating private schools vary; and (3) by retaining twenty-five percent of per pupil revenue pursuant to the CSP, the District receives money that otherwise would go to other school districts.

[¶30] Initially, we reject the state defendants' argument that because plaintiffs have not cross-appealed the district court's adverse ruling on their article IX, section 2 claim, they may not raise these contentions on appeal.

[¶31] " The general rule is that an appellee must file a cross-appeal in order for an appellate court to consider an alleged error of the trial court which prejudiced the appellee." Blocker Exploration Co. v. Frontier Exploration, Inc., 740 P.2d 983, 989 (Colo. 1987). But, " [w]ithout filing a cross-appeal, . . . an appellee may raise any argument in support of the trial court's judgment, so long as the appellee does not seek to increase its rights under the judgment." Leverage Leasing Co. v. Smith, 143 P.3d 1164, 1167-68 (Colo.App. 2006); see Blocker, 740 P.2d at 989.

[¶32] Plaintiffs do not seek to increase their rights under the judgment. If they are successful on these contentions they will not be entitled to any relief in addition to or different from that already awarded by the district court. The mere fact that plaintiffs pled a stand-alone claim based on article IX, section 2 does not, contrary to the state defendants' assertion, mean that success on these contentions would increase their rights under the judgment. See Evans v. Romer, 854 P.2d 1270, 1275 & n.7 (Colo. 1993) (supreme court was not limited in assessing only the constitutional right relied on by the district court in striking down the provision at issue because the plaintiffs-appellees were not seeking to increase their rights under the judgment); cf. Blum v. Bacon, 457 U.S. 132, 137 n.5, 102 S.Ct. 2355, 72 L.Ed.2d 728 (1982) (the appellee could raise a statutory argument on appeal that had been rejected by the lower court despite not having filed a cross-appeal because his relief under the judgment granting an injunction would not be modified); Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 476, 90 S.Ct. 1153, 25 L.Ed.2d 491 & n.6 (1970) (the appellee could argue that the regulation at issue violated a statute, even thought the appellee had lost on that claim

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and had not filed a cross-appeal); Castellano v. Fragozo, 352 F.3d 939, 960 (5th Cir. 2003) (despite not having filed a cross-appeal, the plaintiff could defend the judgment based on a constitutional claim that had been dismissed because he was not attempting to expand his rights under the judgment); Kennecott Copper Corp. v. Curtiss-Wright Corp., 584 F.2d 1195, 1206 (2d Cir. 1978) (appellee which did not cross-appeal from dismissal of claim alleging a violation of statute could nonetheless argue such violation on appeal as grounds for affirming injunctive relief); but see Robertson v. City & Cnty. of Denver, 874 P.2d 325, 327 nn.2 & 5 (Colo. 1994) (because the plaintiffs did not cross-appeal, they could not argue on appeal that the district court erred in rejecting certain constitutional challenges to the ordinance there at issue).

[¶33] Therefore, we address the merits of plaintiffs' contentions. And we conclude that plaintiffs' contentions fail.

[¶34] We review de novo the district court's determination whether the CSP is constitutional. Owens v. Congress of Parents, Teachers and Students, 92 P.3d 933, 942 (Colo. 2004). To the extent the district court made findings of historical fact based on conflicting evidence, however, we review such findings for clear error. See People in Interest of A.J.L., 243 P.3d 244, 249-50 (Colo. 2010). A finding of fact is clearly erroneous only if it has no record support. Id. at 250; M.D.C./Wood, Inc. v. Mortimer, 866 P.2d 1380, 1383-84 (Colo. 1994).[7]

[¶35] We recognize that legislative acts are entitled to a presumption of constitutionality. See Owens, 92 P.3d at 942. Plaintiffs argue that we should not apply the presumption to the CSP because it is not a statute enacted by the General Assembly or a municipal ordinance. That view of the presumption's application is too narrow.

[¶36] The presumption of constitutionality stems from an appreciation of the separation of powers established by the Colorado Constitution; " thereby, the judiciary respects the roles of the legislature and the executive in the enactment of laws." City of Greenwood Village v. Petitioners for Proposed City of Centennial, 3 P.3d 427, 440 (Colo. 2000). Contrary to plaintiffs' suggestion, Colorado case law does not suggest that this respect is limited to statutory enactments of the General Assembly and analogous enactments of municipal governments. Colorado appellate courts have also applied the presumption to, for example, administrative regulations adopted by administrative agencies, e.g., Colo. Civil Rights Comm'n v. Travelers Ins. Co., 759 P.2d 1358, 1366 (Colo. 1988); an internal rule adopted by the state House of Representatives, Grossman v. Dean, 80 P.3d 952, 964 (Colo.App. 2003); and, as perhaps most apt here, resolutions adopted by a board of county commissioners, Asphalt Paving Co. v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs, 162 Colo. 254, 264-65, 425 P.2d 289, 295 (1967).

[¶37] We are not persuaded that legislative acts of school districts' boards of education merit different treatment. Pursuant to article IX, section 15 of the Colorado Constitution, the General Assembly created local school districts governed by boards of education. The directors of the boards are elected by qualified district electors, and " have control of instruction in the public schools of their respective districts." Colo. Const. art. IX, § 15. By statute, local boards are entrusted with extensive duties and powers (including, for example, the power of eminent domain), which they carry out and exercise through the adoption of policies, rules, and regulations. § § 22-32-103(1), -109 to -109.7, -110, -110.6, -110.7, C.R.S. 2012. Thus, the boards are legislative bodies. And they are political subdivisions of the state. See Bagby v. Sch. Dist. No. 1, 186 Colo. 428, 434-35, 528 P.2d 1299, 1302 (1974) (" A school district is a subordinate division of the government and exercising authority to effectuate the state's education purposes. . . . As such, school districts and the boards which run them are considered to be political subdivisions of the state." (citations omitted)). We should respect the role of such bodies no less than we do the role of the General Assembly.

[¶38] Accordingly, we conclude that the CSP is entitled to a presumption of constitutionality.

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Thus, we must uphold the CSP unless we conclude that plaintiffs proved that it is unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt. Owens, 92 P.3d at 942; People in Interest of City of Arvada v. Nissen, 650 P.2d 547, 550 (Colo. 1982). " In addition, we must uphold the [enactment] unless a clear and unmistakable conflict exists between the [enactment] and a provision of the Colorado Constitution." Owens, 92 P.3d at 942 (internal quotation marks omitted; quoting in part E-470 Pub. Highway Auth. v. Revenig, 91 P.3d 1038, 1041 (Colo. 2004)).[8]

[¶39] We now turn to the merits of plaintiffs' contentions under article IX, section 2.

[¶40] As noted, the district court rejected plaintiffs' contention that the CSP denies students a " free" public education because there was insufficient evidence that any student would be denied the opportunity to receive a free public education in Douglas County. The record supports this finding. Indeed, plaintiffs do not even argue to the contrary. Rather, they argue that because students participating in the CSP may not receive a free education (because parents must pay the difference remaining after remittance of the scholarships), the CSP necessarily violates article IX, section 2.

[¶41] Plaintiffs misapprehend the constitutional mandate. It requires that a thorough and uniform system of free elementary through high school education be made available to students between the ages of six and twenty-one. See Lujan v. Colo. State Bd. of Educ., 649 P.2d 1005, 1025 (Colo. 1982) (this provision " is satisfied if thorough and uniform educational opportunities are available through state action in each school district" ); cf. Simmons-Harris v. Goff, 86 Ohio St.3d 1, 1999-Ohio-77, 711 N.E.2d 203, 212 (Ohio 1999) (holding that a program similar to the CSP did not violate the Ohio Constitution's requirement of " a thorough and efficient system of common schools" because it did not undermine that state's obligation to public education at current funding levels); Davis v. Grover, 166 Wis.2d 501, 480 N.W.2d 460, 473-74 (Wis. 1992) (applying a similar constitutional provision to a similar school choice program and holding that it requires only that the legislature provide the opportunity to receive a uniform basic education). It plainly is not violated where a local school district decides to provide educational opportunities in addition to the free system the constitution requires. Lujan, 649 P.2d at 1025 (article IX, section 2 " does not prevent a local school district from providing additional educational opportunities beyond this standard" ); cf. In re Kindergarten Schools, 18 Colo. 234, 234-36, 32 P. 422, 422-23 (1893) (requirement of article IX, section 2 did not prohibit General Assembly from establishing a public school system for educating children less than six years old). Nor is it violated merely because some students' parents may choose to have their children forego the available opportunity to attend a school within the system the constitution requires.

[¶42] It is questionable whether plaintiffs' remaining contentions are preserved for review. Their briefs do not identify where in the record these contentions were raised, as required by C.A.R. 28(k), and our review of the motions for preliminary injunction, the arguments at the hearing, and plaintiffs' proposed findings does not reveal that they asserted these precise contentions in any substantial way. In any event, they fail as well.

[¶43] Any lack of uniformity, either among the instructional programs provided by the participating private schools and the public schools or amongst the various private schools themselves, does not render the CSP in violation of article IX, section 2. The requirement that the General Assembly create a thorough and uniform system of free public education does not preclude a local school district from providing educational opportunities in addition to and different from the thorough and uniform system. See Lujan, 649 P.2d at 1025.

[¶44] Moreover, the fact the participating private schools ultimately receive funds distributed to the District as per pupil revenue does not transform the private schools into

Page 845

public schools subject to the uniformity requirement. See Jackson v. Benson, 218 Wis.2d 835, 578 N.W.2d 602, 627-28 (Wis. 1998) (rejecting claim that a parental choice program giving public funds to parents who enroll their children in certain private schools violated a constitutional provision requiring establishment of local schools " which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable" ; funding mechanism did not transform private schools into public schools); Davis, 480 N.W.2d at 473-74 (same).

[¶45] Plaintiffs also are incorrect that because the CSP is structured to allow the District to retain twenty-five percent of per pupil revenue allocated for participating students, it diverts funds from other districts and thereby violates article IX, section 2, for at least two reasons.

[¶46] First, this contention assumes that participating students would not be enrolled in District schools in the absence of the CSP. But, as plaintiffs' counsel conceded at oral argument, that assumption lacks evidentiary support in the record. Indeed, the evidence in the record bearing on this point indicates the contrary. As noted, to be eligible to participate in the CSP, students must be current District residents, must have been District residents for at least one year, and must have been enrolled in District public schools during the 2010-2011 school year (the school year immediately prior to the school year during which the CSP was to operate). And, also as noted, one purpose of the CSP is to provide greater educational choice to District students and parents -- that is, choices not previously available to District students and parents because of financial limitations. Thus, if anything, the evidence in the record shows that the District's per pupil revenue would be the same in the absence of the CSP because the participating students would otherwise enroll in District public schools.[9]

[¶47] Second, this contention posits an unduly restrictive view of the mandate of article IX, section 2. As discussed, local school districts may provide educational options to students in addition to that required by article IX, section 2. See Lujan, 649 P.2d at 1025; Boulder Valley Sch. Dist., 217 P.3d at 927-28 (state system of charter schools does not violate article IX, section 2 because that provision does not prohibit making available additional educational opportunities); see also Jackson, 578 N.W.2d at 627-28 (rejecting argument premised on similar constitutional provision that similar school choice program diverted funds from the public school system). And they may expend public funds in doing so. See § 22-54-104(1)(a) (" the amounts and purposes for which [a district's total per pupil revenue] are budgeted and expended shall be in the discretion of the district" ).[10]

[¶48] We therefore conclude that plaintiffs failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the CSP violates article IX, section 2.

3. Article IX, § 3 -- Use of the Public School Fund

[¶49] Article IX, section 3 provides in relevant part:

The public school fund of the state shall, except as provided in this article IX, forever remain inviolate and intact and the interest and other income thereon, only, shall be expended in the maintenance of the schools of the state, and shall be distributed amongst the several counties and school districts of the state, in such manner as may be prescribed by law. No part of this fund, principal, interest, or other income shall ever be transferred to any other fund, or used or appropriated, except as provided in this article IX. . . .

Page 846

[¶50] The public school fund consists of the proceeds of land given to the state for educational purposes by the federal government upon Colorado's admission into the union, estates which escheat to the state, and gifts to the state for educational purposes. Colo. Const. art. IX, § 5; see 18 Stat. 474 § 7; People in Interest of Dunbar v. City of Littleton, 183 Colo. 195, 197, 515 P.2d 1121, 1121 (1973).

[¶51] The district court held that the CSP violates article IX, section 3 because some of the District's total per pupil funding comes from the public school fund. The court reasoned that payments to parents would therefore include money from the public school fund, which would then be received by private schools. We do not agree with that analysis.

[¶52] Article IX, section 3 requires only that money from the public school fund be " expended in the maintenance of the schools of the state" and " distributed amongst the several counties and school districts of the state, in such manner as may be prescribed by law." It plainly applies to distributions made by the state, not local districts. And it requires distributions to the counties and school districts. Upon distribution by the state to the counties and school districts, the money from the fund belongs to the counties and school districts. Craig v. People in Interest of Hazard, 89 Colo. 139, 144-45, 299 P. 1064, 1066 (1931).

[¶53] In ruling that the District directed public school fund money to participating private schools (through parents of participating students), the district court in effect assumed that once a district receives public school fund money from the state, all money the district expends is subject to the restriction of article IX, section 3. But article IX, section 3 is expressly a restriction on the use of only certain money -- that of the public school fund. It does not suggest that the existence of some public school fund money in a district's total per pupil revenue subjects all money comprising the total per pupil revenue to its restriction.

[¶54] It is undisputed that less than two percent of public school funding comes from the public school fund. (The District presented unrebutted evidence of this fact.) It is also undisputed that (1) at the time of the preliminary injunction hearing, there were approximately 58,000 students in District schools, only 500 of whom (or 0.86 percent) could enroll in the Charter School; and (2) the Charter School would retain twenty-five percent of per pupil revenue attributable to students participating in the CSP. Therefore, it does not follow that money from the public school fund would be diverted to private schools. Because we must presume the CSP is constitutional, Danielson v. Dennis, 139 P.3d 688, 691 (Colo. 2006), construe the CSP in a manner avoiding constitutional infirmity, if possible, Bd. of Directors v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co., 105 P.3d 653, 656 (Colo. 2005), and avoid seeking reasons to find the CSP unconstitutional, Harris v. Heckers, 185 Colo. 39, 41, 521 P.2d 766, 768 (1974), we must construe the CSP as funded out of the ninety-eight percent of total per pupil revenue that does not come from the public school fund. See Danielson, 139 P.3d at 691 (party challenging the constitutionality of a legislative enactment must establish that " [t]he precise point of conflict between [the legislative enactment] and the constitution . . . appear[s] plain, palpable, and inevitable " ) (emphasis added) (quoting Union Pac. Ry. Co. v. De Busk, 12 Colo. 294, 303, 20 P. 752, 756 (1889)).[11]

[¶55] Perceiving no plain, palpable, and inevitable conflict between the CSP and article IX, section 3, we conclude that plaintiffs did not meet their burden of establishing the unconstitutionality of the program under that provision.

4. Article IX, § 15 -- Local Control

[¶56] Plaintiffs contend that the CSP violates article IX, section 15 of the Colorado Constitution, and that the district court erred in ruling to the contrary. Because plaintiffs do not seek to increase their rights under ...

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