Representatives of the Daniels Fund and the Walton Family Foundation, whose combined contributions to the voucher program’s legal defense fund total almost $900,000, say they’re believers in school choice.
The Daniels Fund believes in it so firmly, its spokesperson said the organization may donate still more money to help the Douglas County School District win its legal battle to run the program. So far, the Denver-based organization has contributed $680,000.
“We certainly would not rule out additional contributions,” Daniels Fund spokesperson Peter Droege said. “Many, many people are talking about the crisis in education in our nation. I think Douglas County has the kinds of courageous leaders that are willing to take the difficult steps to make a difference in education.”
The Daniels Fund, founded by cable television pioneer Bill Daniels, supports K-12 education reform, among other causes.
The Douglas County School Board, anticipating legal challenges to the voucher program, established a legal defense fund in March 2011 – the same day it approved the program.
In June 2011, two groups filed lawsuits to stop the program. A Denver District Court judge agreed with them, issuing a permanent injunction against the district’s choice scholarship program in August 2011. The district appealed, and the case now is in the hands of the Colorado Court of Appeals.
Cindy Barnard, among those who filed suit to stop the program, said during the board’s July 17 meeting that the board’s expenditures exceed its donations by more than $100,000. Barnard said accounting adjustments weren’t reflected on the district’s transparency website. The board promised it would not use district funds to defend the program, and Barnard said she wants to ensure that promise isn’t broken.
District legal counsel Rob Ross said the fund is in the red, but only by about $8,000. Another $100,000 donation from the Walton Family Foundation is expected soon, he said.
Like the Daniels Fund, the Walton Family Foundation, created by Sam and Helen Walton, supports K-12 education, including school choice. Its spokesperson e-mailed a statement explaining its decision to support Douglas County’s voucher program.
“We are investing in this initiative because we believe that the more choices parents have, the better it is for all schools,” wrote Daphne David Moore, the foundation’s communications director. “Douglas County is working aggressively to expand new publicly funded options for families in their district, allowing them to send their child to the school that best meets their needs. When parents are empowered to choose a competitive dynamic emerges that inspires the broader public school system to improve.”
Colorado Springs-based El Pomar also donated $25,000 to the fund in 2011. Individuals also have made smaller donations.
Droege says it’s a community’s obligation to ensure children have access to the educational models that best suit their learning style.
“How dare someone tell someone else their child is not going to be able to receive the kind of education that will allow them to succeed in life, to say, ‘You’re going to have to live with diminished expectations,’” he said. “When adults block the path to better schools, the kinds of reform efforts we really need, they are telling kids just to sit tight and hope for the best. Our kids deserve better than that.”
Judge Michael Martinez ruled the program violates religious and financial provisions in the Colorado Constitution.