Board votes to appeal Lobato decision

The State Board of Education voted Tuesday to appeal a Denver District Court judge’s ruling earlier this month that the Colorado Legislature isn’t properly funding the state’s public education system.

The board voted to join with Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General John Suthers to appeal a Dec. 9 decision by Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport that state funding for K–12 education hasn’t kept pace with school reforms, particularly those that established student and teacher achievement goals.

The ruling in Lobato v. Colorado could require the state to spend up to $4 billion more in education, which lawmakers say would mean there would be no money left for other services, such as prisons, transportation, and human-services programs. The state already spends more than $3 billion a year on public schools.

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer, chairman of the seven-member panel, said it is crucial that the board join in the appeal.

The lawsuit, filed in 2005, claims that by not increasing funding to the state’s 178 school districts with each new state mandate, lawmakers have violated the education clause of the Colorado Constitution, which calls for a thorough and uniform education system.

Last week, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the state will appeal the case directly to the Colorado Supreme Court, saying Rappaport’s ruling left open too many questions about how the state should comply. Hickenlooper said the judge didn’t reconcile her ruling with the revenue-limiting restrictions under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and the Gallagher Amendment.

Schaffer said that while that’s an important question, it isn’t the paramount issue for the high court to decide.

Does the court even have the authority to intrude so deeply into the legislative process of setting the state budget?” Schaffer said.

The former congressman said no two people will completely agree on how a state should fund education, saying that’s why we have a political process and a state Legislature.

Having one branch of government tell another branch how to do its job doesn’t solve the problem, Schaffer said.

“The notion that an unelected judge can put on a black robe, sit behind a desk and come to a conclusion that is different than the deliberative process is preposterous,” he said. “Legislators are elected to make political decisions. Judges are elected to make legal decisions. In this case, the judge ventured into the realm of politics.”


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I read the 183 decision in this case, and agree with Hickenlooper that the judge ignored the conflicting directives in the state’s constitution. The judge told legislators to have another go at doing it right, but absent getting rid of TABOR legislators can’t legislate a fix. There is no fix until the systemic problems are addressed, as pointed out in the University of Denver report on Colorado’s financial outlook.

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