It’s lawmakers’ call, not the courts’, say King, Wright of school funding ruling

Mesa County legislators welcomed a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that left intact the existing school-finance system, a system that officials also acknowledged has done School District 51 no favors.

A divided high court said the existing formula for state spending on local schools “is rationally related to the constitutional mandate that the General Assembly provide a ‘thorough and uniform’ system of public education.”

The existing system, state Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction said, “has been terrible for Mesa County. The School Finance Act is dysfunctional for Mesa County, but I don’t know that the courts would be any better.”

The ruling amounted to a victory for taxpayers, King said.

“The fact is, I don’t want courts making those decisions even if it would be a benefit to District 51. That’s not what the judiciary’s job is.”

State Rep. Jared Wright, R-Fruita, called the ruling “an important decision and an appropriate one,” and said the plaintiffs who challenged the constitutionality of the School Finance Act made a mistake in trying to set policy through the courts.

The ruling overturns a district court decision that would have required the Legislature to fund kindergarten-through-12th-grade education by as much as $4 billion more than the state now spends. Public schools now receive $3.2 billion, or almost 40 percent of Colorado’s $8 billion General Fund.

A ruling that the existing system was unconstitutional would have brought about a budget crisis, Wright said.

Current law recognizes School District 51 as one needing less state support because of its size and location and the high court’s ruling means that it’s “still a bottom-funded district,” said Melissa Callahan deVita, chief operations officer for the district,

The passage of Senate Bill 213 this year calls for voters to be asked whether to approve $1.1 billion in new education funding aimed at spending more in districts with higher percentages of at-risk or English language learners and fund full-day kindergarten across the state.

SB 213 is likely to shift funding away from several Front Range districts and “those districts are not going to just sit there,” Callahan deVita said.

The legislation allows five years for voters to approve new funding.

“It is so unclear still what the final format will be that (the ruling) does not bring any stability at this point,” Callahan deVita said.

Justices Nancy Rice, Nathan Coats, Allison Eid and Brian Boatright signed the majority opinion while Chief Justice Michael Bender and Justice Gregory Hobbes said the trial court’s finding that the School Finance Act was unconstitutional should be upheld.

Justice Monica Marquez, a Grand Junction High School graduate, recused herself because she had worked on the state’s defense against the lawsuit.


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