"It seems odd to me to say that 'we're one of the best school districts in the state, but the only way we can improve is to send our children to these private, religious schools,' " said Jeanne Beyer, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Education Assn., which represents teachers in other districts.
Critics also worry that Douglas will end up siphoning off increasingly scarce state tax dollars as the program grows, at the expense of other districts.
District officials say they believe the program will be relatively small at first — Gerken said it might have just 500 slots. And he said the district would contract with private schools outside the county to ensure there are more secular options.
Gerken also noted that, although the county is generally affluent, 8% of district students receive free or subsidized school lunches.
Some parents hope the idea is enacted. Karin Piper has one child in a Douglas County charter school, one in a private school and home-schools a third. A native of Sweden, she grew up in a country that gives tax money to parents of all income levels to pay private school tuition.
"It's cracking the door open and starting that conversation," said Piper, 39. "I am excited about a board that is adding options and testing the border a bit about where the line for school choice and families should be."