Denver Judge Says Colorado is Underfunding its Schools

The Colorado state school funding system "is not rationally related to the mandate to establish and maintain a thorough and uniform system of free public schools." District Judge Sheila Rappaport said in her 183-page ruling in which she called the system "unconscionable", writes Tim Hoover and Lynn Bartels at The Denver Post.

The case of Lobato vs. State of Colorado was filed in 2005 by a group of parents from around the school districts who believed the state's current school-funding system fails to provide a "thorough and uniform" system of education.

Attorney General John Suthers' office represented the state, and it argues that state budget decisions should be left to the legislature and voters. Affirming the principle that more money alone can't promise better schools.

But Rappaport disagreed.

"There is not enough money in the system to permit school districts across the state to properly implement standards-based education and to meet the requirements of state law and regulation," Rappaport wrote.

"This is true for districts of every description – rural, suburban, urban and those with small or large student populations.

"There is not one school district that is sufficiently funded. This is an obvious hallmark of an irrational system."

And while the current budget cuts have compounded issues, they're not to blame, says Rappaport.

"Current economic conditions are not the source of the school finance crisis. They have made an unworkable situation unconscionable."

The lawsuit seeks no specific sum of money, but it is estimated that the state is underfunding education by as much as $4 billion.

The state now spends more than 40 percent, or $3.2 billion in the 2010-11 fiscal year that ended in June, of its almost $7 billion general fund on K-12 schools, writes Hoover and Bartels.

"We're going to consult with the governor on how to proceed, but the court clearly invited an appeal, and we believe an appeal is likely," said Suthers spokesman Mike Saccone.

"The attorney general, while disappointed with the court order, is not surprised. It was clearly very tempting for the district court judge to wade into what is a public policy debate."

The current school finance system is set to stay in place until the Colorado Supreme Court either makes a final ruling in the case or if defendants or plaintiffs ask Rappaport to revisit the ruling.

Rappaport said the injunction against the state couldn't be revisited until the end of the 2012 legislative session.

12 14, 2011
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