UpdatedOne of the state’s most prominent foundations, the Daniels Fund, is joining the legal battle around the Douglas County voucher plan.

The foundation is giving $330,000 outright to defend the pilot, which a judge declared unconstitutional on Aug. 12, and has agreed to give $200,000 more if district officials can raise enough to match that amount, confirmed communications director Peter Droege.

Prior to the Daniels gift, the most prominent financial backer of the voucher pilot was oil & gas developer Alex Cranberg, who donated $50,000 to the legal fund established by Douglas County school board members when they approved the voucher pilot on March 15.

As of Aug. 17, the district’s legal fund had accumulated $52,383 from 28 different donors. Also as of that date, the district had accumulated legal expenses of more than $120,000, according to data supplied in response to an open-records request from EdNews.

Today, district spokesman Randy Barber said the district’s legal bills total $360,000, an amount that will be covered by the $330,000 Daniels gift and the $52,383 already in hand.

Douglas County school board members are expected to discuss an appeal of the judge’s ruling at tonight’s school board meeting. They have until Sept. 26 to file a notice of appeal with the Colorado Court of Appeals.

The pilot plan would have used public money – 75 percent of the district’s per-pupil funding or $4,575 per student – to help send up to 500 Douglas County students to private schools this fall.

Denver District Court Judge Michael Martinez ruled the plan violated five provisions of the Colorado Constitution, including the prohibition against public funding of religious institutions, and the state’s School Finance Act.

Martinez halted the program with a permanent injunction on Aug. 12 and, on Monday, denied a motion from district and state officials to stay the injunction while their appeal is pending.

Members of Great Choice Colorado, a Douglas County group of parents and residents supporting the voucher pilot, issued a news applauding the Daniels gift:

Great Choice Douglas County is very pleased that Daniels Fund has stepped up to help our district and school board defend the Choice Scholarship Program. We support educational choice in all forms and the right of families to determine the best education for their child. This program is a logical addition to the choice already available in DCSD. We believe it will be eventually upheld by the courts, and when that happens, it will reverberate throughout the state and the nation.

As stated on Daniels Fund website:  “Bill Daniels had a strong conviction that all kids deserve a great education. His trust in the free market system made him a firm believer in competition and alternative approaches, particularly those that provide high-quality choices. The Daniels Fund honors his vision through its support of K-12 educational reform initiatives such as charter schools, portable vouchers for tuition assistance, and significant innovations that challenge the status quo.”

We applaud the Douglas County School Board for their commitment to offering the choice they were elected to provide. We applaud, with a standing ovation, Daniels Fund, for their generosity in assisting DCSD in their legal battle to stand for families and children.

The Daniels Fund, seeded by cable TV magnate Bill Daniels, funds a variety of education initiatives, including a scholarship program for financially needy students known as Daniels Scholars.

Disclosure: The Daniels Fund is a funder of Education News Colorado.

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What’s churning:

Denver District Court Judge Michael Martinez on Monday denied without comment a request from Douglas County and state officials that he stay his injunction of the district’s voucher pilot while they appeal his ruling.

Martinez issued a permanent injunction halting the voucher pilot on Aug. 12, following a three-day hearing. He found the pilot violated five provisions of the Colorado Constitution, including the prohibition against public funding of religious institutions, as well as the state’s School Finance Act.

On Aug. 18, the defendants – the district, its school board, the Colorado Department of Education, the State Board of Education and three Douglas County families who received vouchers – asked the judge to stay the injunction while their appeal is pending. In the alternative, they asked the injunction be stayed through Sept. 26, their deadline for filing a notice of appeal with the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Martinez stamped denied across the motion they proffered and issued no written comments.

Douglas County school board members are expected to discuss the appeal during tonight’s school board meeting. The board’s agenda describes a “resolution to direct attorneys to take necessary steps to appeal the order of Denver District Court” but no resolution is attached to the agenda.

Board members tonight also are expected to vote to place tax increases for operating and building dollars on the Nov. 1 ballot. The specifics of those tax increases are unclear – neither the mill-levy override resolution nor the bond issue resolution is attached to the agenda.

Tonight’s meeting begins at 5 p.m., convenes immediately into a two-hour closed session and then opens to the public at 7:10 p.m. Agenda. It’s at district headquarters, 620 Wilcox St. in Castle Rock.

What’s on tap:

TODAY

The Legislative Task Force to Study School Discipline will meet at 8:30 a.m. in room 0112 of the Capitol. Committee website.

Staff members of the Legislative Council will hold a meeting on draft blue book language for Proposition 103, the proposed tax increase to fund schools. The meeting will start at 9:30 a.m., in Senate Committee Room 353 of the Capitol. No public comment will be taken. Read draft of Prop 103.

Good reads from elsewhere:

Another voucher program, another legal battle – Indiana lawmakers approved the nation’s second statewide voucher plan in April, targeting low to middle-income families. Now the program is in court. USA Today.