The Daniels Fund is a Denver-based nonprofit that provides philanthropic funding for the people of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming through its grants program, scholarship program, and ethics initiative. In 2022, the Daniels Fund gave over $63 million to organizations and entities focused on aging, amateur sports, disabilities, drug and alcohol addiction, early childhood education, homelessness, education, and youth development. With over $1 billion in assets, the Daniels Fund is able to make a significant financial impact on the sectors and entities it chooses to fund.

Within the education sector, the Daniels Fund pours its dollars into education reform — charter schools, school choice programs, and conservative think tanks that have been working to undermine public education by shifting public tax dollars to privately owned schools and companies.

“We have set a goal to create 100,000 new choice seats for students by 2030 in our four-state region,” Daniels Fund CEO Hann Skandera told Philanthropy Roundtable, who received $275,000 from the Daniels Fund in 2021 — in September 2023. “We will fund seats in great schools, in homes, in hybrid school models or pods — you name it. We want to provide parents and our next generation with the opportunity to choose what is best for them — what will equip them to be great citizens who give back in our country. And we will invest across different policy environments. You know, Wyoming is more rural. New Mexico has rural and urban areas. Utah just passed an Education Savings Account law. Localized solutions matter immensely. Philanthropy can play a huge role in presenting and serving alongside local solutions.”

Skandera formerly served as the secretary of New Mexico’s Public Education Department (PED). After being appointed by Republican Governor Susana Martinez — who currently serves on the Daniels Fund’s board of directors — in 2011, it took four years for Skandera to be confirmed by the New Mexico legislature.

“I can’t vote for your confirmation,” said New Mexico Sen. Michael Sanchez (D) during the 2015 confirmation hearing. “I’ve never believed from day one that you’re qualified for that position.”

According to reporting from the New Mexico Political Report, “Many teachers spoke in opposition to Skandera’s nomination. Three common themes were that they did not believe Skandera is an experienced educator, as the state constitution requires for the PED secretary and that morale among teachers has dropped in the past four years and that testing is not fair and disrupts the school day.”


Before her time in New Mexico, Skandera served as undersecretary for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and as deputy commissioner for Florida Governor Jeb Bush and as deputy chief of staff and senior policy advisor for the U. S. Department of Education. In 2016, Politico Pro reported that Skandera was under consideration for education deputy secretary or undersecretary in the Trump administration, and in 2017 she resigned as New Mexico’s PED secretary.

In 2018, Skandera launched a short-lived initiative with Kristen Lozada Morgan, who currently serves as the Daniels Fund’s chief of staff. Pathway 2 Tomorrow: Local Visions for America’s Future partnered with groups like the Walton Family Foundation and the Thomas Fordham Institute to provide grant funding for local education reform measures. In 2019, Skandera accepted a position on the Daniels Fund’s board, and in 2020 was named CEO. Skandera also serves as a member of the Common Sense Institute’s Free Enterprise Cabinet, alongside former Colorado GOP Chair Dick Wadhams. In 2021, the conservative think tank received $50,000 from the Daniels Fund.

Sponsors of the Common Sense Institute’s 2023 Free Enterprise Summit.

Skandera isn’t the only member of Daniels Fund with political connections. Luke Ragland, the senior vice president of the Daniels Fund’s grants program, overseeing “all aspects of the grants program,” serves on the board of Ready Colorado, a conservative nonprofit focused on education that also has spent millions trying to elect Republicans to the state legislature. In 2020, the Daniels Fund gave Ready Colorado, through the nonprofit High Hopes Colorado, $150,000. High Hopes received $150,000 again in 2021. In 2021, Ragland received $95,389 as president of Ready Colorado, in addition to the $126,831 he received from the Daniels Fund.


Ragland also served on the board of the Colorado Opportunity Foundation, a nonprofit run by Advance Colorado’s Michael Fields. In 2020, Ready Colorado gave the Colorado Opportunity Foundation $100,000 and High Hopes Colorado gave them $1,495,000.

Ready Colorado and the Daniels Fund are currently funding the Liberty Schools Initiative, a project run by Kim Gilmartin, co-founder of Ascent Classical Academies, which received $290,000 from the Daniels Fund in 2021. Gilmartin was named as a 2023 Charter School Advocate of the Year Finalist by the Colorado League of Charter Schools — who received $320,000 from the Daniels Fund in 2021 — and was featured in perennial candidate Deborah Flora’s documentary “Whose Children Are They?” The goal of the Liberty Schools Initiative is to “assist parents by creating charter, private, and micro schools that offer a quality classical education, in order to grow self-governing and virtuous citizens.”

In addition to funding Ascent Classical Academies, the Daniels Fund has also given funds to a number of other Colorado charter schools, including $113,000 in 2021 to Liberty Common School, whose headmaster, Bob Schaffer, is chair of the board for conservative training course Leadership Program of the Rockies — which received $2,500 from the Daniels Fund in 2021 — and $40,000 to controversial Woodland Park Superintendent Ken Witt’s ERBOCES. The Daniels Fund also gave $200,000 to 5280 High School, the project-based “sober” high school with ties to controversial Enthusiastic Sobriety programs. In 2020 the Daniels Fund gave FullCircle, the newly formed Enthusiastic Sobriety program that former members described as a kind of cult that encourages teens to take part in risky, often illegal behavior, engage in animal abuse, and encourages racism and homophobia a $50,000 grant.

The Daniels fund also made successive donations of $1,000 in 2020 and 2021 to the Drug Free America Foundation, which was born out of some of the most horrifically abusive organizations that pioneered what is now considered the “troubled teen industry.” In 1976 Mel Sembler, a friend of the Bush family, along with former staff and board members of The Seed — which in 1974 was the subject of a U.S. Senate investigation into behavior modification programs that noted, “Similar to the highly refined ‘brainwashing’ techniques employed by the North Koreans in the early 1950s, the method is used in the treatment of drug abusers” — formed Straight, Inc., which incorporated many of The Seed’s practices. First Lady Nancy Reagan declared Straight her favorite anti-drug program. Newcomers were marched around by the back of their pants and not allowed to speak during the first phase of the program. Youth spent over 12 hours a day in group therapy called “rap sessions,” where speakers were forced to confess past misdeeds to an audience of their peers who “motivated,” a kind of applause gesture that involved vigorously shaking their arms in the air, and responded to each speaker with “I love you.” The group was notorious for its abuses, settling $15 million in lawsuits alleging kidnapping, malpractice, negligence, statutory and licensing violations, false imprisonment, assault, and strict peanut butter and water diets, before dissolving in 1989. Straight became the Drug Free America Foundation in 1992, and now focuses on policy and research, as opposed to treatment.

Teens “motivating” during a Straight, Inc. “rap session.”

Additional education funding from the Daniels Fund includes over $466,000 to Colorado Christian University in 2020, and $11,000 in 2021. CCU’s Centennial Institute regularly schedules conservative speakers and puts on the annual Western Conservative Summit, drawing national figures like Matt Walsh, Eric Metaxas, and Riley Gaines, alongside political figures like U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO).

In 2021, the Daniels Fund gave $50,000 to the Independence Institute’s Education Policy Center. In 2022, Pam Benigno, the Independence Institute’s Education Policy Center director, worked with conservative activist groups FEC United and the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR) to oppose policies for LGBTQ students and what they saw as “critical race theory” in Douglas County schools.

“A lot of us use the term CRT — critical race theory — but really this all started with multiculturalism,” Benigno told Flora during a November 2022 episode of Flora’s radio show.

Pam Benigno of the Independence Institute, Will Johnson of FAIR, and Matt Rogers of FEC United.

In addition to promoting school choice and supporting charter schools, the Daniels Fund has helped school districts in anti-union efforts. In 2015 the Daniels Fund, at the behest of attorney Brad Miller, gave the Thompson School District $150,000 to cover the costs of outside attorneys hired to defend the board in court during a legal battle with the district’s union. The Thompson Education Association had filed a lawsuit to keep the terms of the district’s 2014-15 contract in place and allow the union to continue as the teachers’ representative in contract negotiations after the conservative board majority voted repeatedly to reject the contract and an independent arbiter reported that the board acted in bad faith during negotiations. The school board eventually signed a contract with the union after elections removed the conservative majority.

The Daniels Fund’s 2022 IRS Form 990 did not include an itemized list of grant recipients, and the Daniels Fund did not respond to an emailed request for comment.