BREAKING: Religious Preschools Fight to Serve Colorado Families

Catholic parish preschools sue state for banning them from universal preschool funding

By Published on August 17, 2023

WASHINGTON — Two Catholic preschools filed a lawsuit against Colorado today for excluding religious preschools from participating in the state’s Universal Preschool Program. In St. Mary Catholic Parish v. Roy, St. Mary’s and St. Bernadette’s are parish preschools that were eager to serve families who wanted to use Colorado’s preschool funding benefit at a Catholic preschool. However, the state has banned funding for religious preschools because they provide an education rooted in their beliefs. With the help of Becket, St. Mary’s and St. Bernadette’s are asking a federal court to ensure that religious preschools can participate in the funding program just like every other private secular school.

St. Mary’s and St. Bernadette’s are Catholic parishes in Colorado that operate excellent preschool programs to serve Denver-area families. For decades, these parish preschools in the Archdiocese of Denver have faithfully assisted parents with the religious and educational upbringing of their children. Many of the families they serve are of limited means. A full 20% of families who send their children to preschools in the Archdiocese qualify for the free and reduced-price school meals program. At St. Bernadette’s, that number is 85%. At St. Mary’s over a quarter of families also receive scholarships or discounts on their preschool education.

“Our preschool exists to help kids harness the skills they need to flourish and grow into individuals prepared to serve others in hope, joy, and love,” said Tracy Seul, Director of Development and Preschool at St. Mary Catholic School. “We are called to offer this ministry to every parent who wants to provide their child with an authentic Catholic education.”

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In 2022, Colorado created its Universal Preschool Program to provide all children access to a free, quality preschool education the year before they are enrolled in kindergarten. After Colorado created the program, St. Mary’s and St. Bernadette’s were excited to begin assisting parents in providing their children an education that upholds their beliefs. But faith-based preschools like St. Mary’s and St. Bernadette’s cannot participate in the program because they prioritize the admission of Catholic families and have religious expectations for the teachers who operate their ministries. This ban forces parents to choose between paying out of pocket for the cost of faith-based preschool or receiving a free preschool education at any other private school in Colorado. It also hurts the ability of schools like St. Mary’s and St. Bernadette’s to compete with other preschools that can offer free preschool education.

“Universal should mean universal,” said Nick Reaves, counsel at Becket. “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. Families should be free to choose the private school that best meets their needs — whether it is secular or religious.”

 

Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 25 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more here).

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