The state rules allegedly unfairly benefit private schools that are nonreligious or religious in a way that can comply with the state rules, thus serving as a “religious gerrymander” or “denominational favoritism.”
State officials declined to create an appropriate religious exemption for the Catholic schools, despite giving exemptions for other protected classes. Though the rules bar discrimination based on income level, officials granted an exemption to Head Start grantees allowing them to give preference for admission to preschoolers from low-income families.
And while the rules bar discrimination based on religion, officials gave exemptions to some faith-based providers — but not Catholic schools — that allow them to give preference for admission to their own congregants.
The lawsuit objected that the department “offers no exemption to faith-based providers without attached congregations, or to faith-based providers who seek to maintain the religious character of their schools in other ways.”
CNA sought comment from the Colorado Department of Early Childhood but did not receive a response by publication.
“Universal should mean universal,” objected Nick Reaves, counsel at the Becket legal group. “Colorado is slamming the door on hundreds of parents that need help sending their kids to preschool, all because the schools that are best for their kids reflect their beliefs.”
“We are asking the court to stop Colorado’s campaign against preschoolers and the schools that want to serve them,” Reaves added. “Families should be free to choose the private school that best meets their needs — whether it is secular or religious.”
The preschool programs at both St. Mary’s and St. Bernadette’s parishes serve many families with limited finances, Becket’s Wednesday statement said. About 85% of families who send their children to St. Bernadette’s preschool qualify for the free and reduced-price school meals program, while 20% of all families who send their kids to archdiocesan preschools qualify.
More than 25% of families at St. Mary’s preschool program receive scholarships or discounts on preschool costs.
The Denver Archdiocese has 36 preschools with more than 1,500 preschoolers each year. According to October 2022 state figures, there were 32,205 students in pre-kindergarten classes in Colorado public schools.