Colorado to Appeal Education Funding Lawsuit

Governor John Hickenlooper has announced that after a close review of a Denver district judge's ruling that the state is underfunding its public schools, he is set to appeal at Colorado highest court, write Karen Auge and Kurtis Lee at The Denver Post.

The lawsuit was brought to the state by a group of individuals and school districts from across the state and backed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The plaintiffs in Lobato v. Colorado argued that K-12 education in the state is underfunded by $3 billion, asserting that this alleged shortfall of the public schools violates Colorado's constitutional provisions.

According to the Joint Budget Committee Appropriations Report 2010-11, Colorado K-12 receives a $3.2 billion portion out of a $6.97 billion general fund.

The judge ruled that state's level of school funding as "unconscionable" and not meeting the Colorado Constitution's requirement of a "thorough and uniform" public education system.

The state must now have to either raise taxes by at least 50 percent or have to devote 89 percent of the general fund budget to K-12 funding, unless Hickenlooper's appeal overturns the decision.

"The judge's decision provided little practical guidance on how the state should fund a ‘thorough and uniform' system of public education," Hickenlooper said in a statement.

"Moreover, while the judge focused on the inadequacy of state funding, she did not reconcile this issue with other very relevant provisions of the Constitution, including the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23."

Prolonging the suit merely hurts kids now in Colorado schools, Kathy Gebhardt, one of the lead attorneys who brought the suit, said.

"We believe we have proved there is a sense of urgency to fixing this problem, that kids have been attending substandard schools," Gebhardt said.

"Justice delayed is education denied."

The governor and the State Board of Education are defendants in the case, so both can weigh in with direction, said Mike Saccone, spokesman for the attorney general's office.

Saccone said the legislature has appropriated up to $3.5 million to defend the state against the suit.

Hickenlooper said in a statement that he consulted with Attorney General John Suthers in reaching his decision to appeal.

"We look forward to a swift decision in this case so the people of Colorado and their elected representatives can participate in the school funding conversation," Hickenlooper said.

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