A wake-up call on education funding
The ruling on school finance by a Denver District Court judge late Friday no doubt caused many a state lawmaker to shudder.
If Judge Sheila Rappaport’s decision is not overturned, and no new revenue is found, it likely means the Legislature will have to cut even more money from most state agencies in order to provide more funds for education. This, after lawmakers have already cut substantially from every part of state government — including education — due to the revenue reductions caused by the recession.
But no one should panic just yet. Rappaport’s decision in a lawsuit known as Lobato v. Colorado could very well be overturned or altered by the Colorado Supreme Court.
Rappaport determined that the way Colorado funds education is not uniform, as required by the state Constitution. But the case required a finding that the school funding apparatus is not “rationally related” to the constitutional mandate to establish a public education system. That is a heckuva a hurdle, and a higher court might very well disagree with Rappaport’s interpretation of the Constitution as it applies to school finance.
But, whether the Supreme Court overturns or changes Rappaport’s ruling her lengthy decision in the case should be a wake-up call to lawmakers, other state officials and Colorado citizens for several matters related to education funding.
First, the formula for dividing money among the state’s nearly 180 school districts is highly suspect, especially under the “thorough and uniform” language of the Constitution.
Some years ago, when they were revamping the school finance act, people then in the state Legislature arbitrarily decided that District 51 and a handful of similarly sized school districts around the state were the most efficient size, and therefore were due less money per pupil under the state’s funding formula than most school districts in Colorado, including districts both larger and smaller than District 51.
How that has withstood the “uniform” test is anyone’s guess.
Whatever the final outcome of Lobato v. Colorado, the Legislature needs to redo the school finance act and come up with a formula that is more equitable to all districts.
Secondly, Rappaport’s decision made it clear she doesn’t believe current funding for public schools is adequate.
We have never believed that simply throwing money at schools guarantees better education. But the flip side is also true: Taking money away from schools doesn’t make them perform better either. There’s a point where schools don’t have enough money to meet their responsibilities. We believe that point has already been reached, which is why we supported two ballot measures this year to boost school funding, one that would have done so statewide and one for District 51.
Rappaport’s ruling also indicates state school funding is insufficient to meet what schools are required to do these days.
It may well be that Coloradans will be asked again in the near future to raise taxes for schools to meet the requirements of their own Constitution. But that won’t occur, we suspect, until the state Supreme Court has weighed in on the legal holding in Lobato v. Colorado.