HomeNewsColorado Lawmakers Face 'Massive' Challenge After Court Ruling

Colorado Lawmakers Face ‘Massive’ Challenge After Court Ruling

The verdict issued on Friday for Colorado’s closely watched school-funding lawsuit can be summed up in one word: unconstitutional. In her 183-page decision, Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport ruled that the state’s education law is unconstitutional because it “underfunds” public schools and fails to provide all students a “thorough and uniform” education.

Rappaport called for the state legislature to craft a new school-funding mechanism. But, according to Reuters, she stayed her ruling pending an expected appeal by the state to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Taylor Lobato’s parents filed the lawsuit to obtain better funding for school districts when she attended middle school, and now she is a 20-year-old college student. “I’m just happy,” she said during a news conference Saturday at Colorado Springs School District 11.

The trial concluded in August, with a verdict expected in October. In the meantime, Colorado voters rejected a proposed sales and income tax increase to fund public schools.

Now the question is: Where will the new funding stream for Colorado schools come from?

Bruce Little, the state director of pupil transportation, gave his take on Judge Rappaport’s landmark ruling.

“In essence, she discounted all of the state’s experts. If you go with her ruling, then [lawmakers] have to come up with additional funding, and not just raise taxes but to change how education is funded. Right now it fluctuates too much. So, the General Assembly needs to find a way to fund education and to make it more steady, if that’s possible,” Little said, adding that the judge will not revisit her ruling before the end of the next legislative session, which runs from January to early May.

He explained that Colorado is one of the lowest-ranking states in per-pupil spending because of its current funding formula, which relies on property and income taxes as well as support from the general fund, which already siphons 40 percent of its cash to schools.

“Property values are in decline and foreclosures are rising, so you have less money coming into counties. All the funding streams for school districts are affected by the economy. The judge said you need a funding stream that’s not fed by the economy,” Little said.

He called the task ahead of lawmakers a “massive” challenge that likely will not be resolved for at least another year, until the case is settled in the state Supreme Court. With similar school-funding lawsuits under way in Kansas and Texas, Little did note that the judge’s ruling could have ramifications beyond state lines.

“I’m sure the other states are watching this closely,” he said, “and it would be interesting to see if their state constitutions are worded similarly to ours in terms of a ‘thorough and uniform’ education.”

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