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Tuesday Churn: Voucher appeal

Updated — Douglas County School District officials today said they provided outdated data in response to a request under the state’s open-records law. The outdated information dealt with how much private schools still owe for voucher payments they’ve been asked to return. This story now reflects the new information. For comparison, here’s the outdated record and here’s the updated document.

What’s churning:

The appeal of a Denver judge’s decision to halt Douglas County’s voucher pilot inched forward this week with Monday’s deadline for opening briefs in the case.

That doesn’t mean the appeal will soon be over. Monday’s deadline sets in motion an answering brief, followed by a response, followed by – possibly – oral arguments, all of which are expected to take the case into the summer.

Dougco school board members approved the voucher pilot more than a year ago, in March 2011. Their voucher pilot would have used public funding to help up to 500 Dougco students attend private schools starting in fall 2011.

But two lawsuits, later consolidated into one, filed by a handful of Dougco families, residents and the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the pilot as unconstitutional and on Aug. 12, Denver District Court Judge Michael Martinez agreed with them. Martinez, in his 68-page ruling, found the pilot violated five provisions of the Colorado Constitution, including the prohibition against public funding of religion, as well as the state School Finance Act.

The school district and the state, defendants in the lawsuit, notified the Colorado Court of Appeals in September of their intent to ask Martinez’s ruling be overturned.

All of that legal action doesn’t come cheap. School district officials, in response to a request under the state’s open records law, provided documents showing nearly $760,000 in expenses billed to the separate legal fund created to accept contributions to defend the voucher plan. More than $600,000 in donations had come in, but that left a deficit of $151,893.

Not to worry, the Walton Family Foundation last week donated $200,000 and the legal fund is again in the black, said district spokesman Randy Barber. The bulk of the legal fund donations have come from foundations interested in education, including a $330,000 outright gift from the Daniels Fund, which also pledged another $200,000 in a matching gift.

Meanwhile, the district has yet to get all of its voucher payments back from the private schools that received them before the pilot was halted. Records show $26,306.25 is still outstanding, with two schools owing most of that money – Lutheran High School has yet to return 10 voucher checks totaling $11,437.50 and Ava Maria Catholic School still owes 8 checks worth $9,150.

Most of the Dougco students who had planned to attend private schools under the voucher pilot decided to stay in those schools, district officials said in November.

Douglas County school board members meet at 6 p.m. tonight at Rocky Heights Middle School in Littleton. The agenda includes a community forum; a presentation by state Treasurer Walker Stapleton on reforming PERA, the state retirement system; and discussion of student fees and field trips for 2012-13, including a plan to reduce the student bus fee from $150 to $120 per year.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and Randy Zila of the EAGLE-Net Alliance Monday announced kickoff of a project that will create a 4,600-mile network providing access to high-speed broadband access for schools, libraries, healthcare facilities and government offices statewide. The project is due to be finished August 2013.

Funding for network construction comes from a $100.6 million federal grant and from more than $30 million in matching funds and services from private and public organizations.

Rural parts of Colorado have lagged the nation in Internet connectivity, and rural school districts have been concerned about lack of capacity to accommodate online educational services and future online testing.

EAGLE-Net is an intergovernmental organization that provides Internet services to community and government organizations. It started five years ago as an initiative of the Centennial Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Get more information on EAGLE-Net.

What’s on tap:

The Boulder Valley board has a special meeting on the 2012-13 budget at 5 p.m. at 6500 E. Arapahoe. Agenda

The Adams 12-Five Star board meets at 5:30 p.m. in the district offices at 1500 E. 128th Ave. in Thornton. The agenda includes a public hearing on the proposed 2012-13 budget, which includes significant cuts. Agenda

The Aurora board meets at 6 p.m. in the Mount Massive Room at the Professional Learning and Conference Center, 15771 E. 1st Ave. Agenda

A good read from elsewhere:

Hawaii R2T status in question: The bloggers at EdWeek are speculating about the future of Hawaii’s Race to the Top funding, given the legislature’s inability to pass an educator evaluation bill. That’s just the most recent question raised about the state’s progress toward meeting its R2T goals.

The EdNews’ Churn is a daily roundup of briefs, notes and meetings in the world of Colorado education. To submit an item for consideration in this listing, please email us at EdNews@EdNewsColorado.org.

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