Judge: School finance system unconstitutional | CraigDailyPress.com

Judge: School finance system unconstitutional

School districts in Moffat County, across the state, win lawsuit against Colorado

Bridget Manley

At a glance …

• Denver District Court judge rules in favor of Colorado school districts, including the Moffat County School District, in a lawsuit contending the state’s school funding system is unconstitutional.

• Lobato vs. State ruling issued Dec. 9.

• Judge concludes the Colorado school finance system fails to provide a “thorough and uniform” education system.

• The court has ordered revision of the state’s school funding system.

Quotable:

“Anything we can do to change the funding system in our state ... just has to happen. That’s all there is to it.”

— Sandie Johns, Moffat County School Board president, on a judge’s ruling that finds the state’s school funding model unconstitutional

At a glance …

• Denver District Court judge rules in favor of Colorado school districts, including the Moffat County School District, in a lawsuit contending the state’s school funding system is unconstitutional.

• Lobato vs. State ruling issued Dec. 9.

• Judge concludes the Colorado school finance system fails to provide a “thorough and uniform” education system.

• The court has ordered revision of the state’s school funding system.

Quotable:

“Anything we can do to change the funding system in our state … just has to happen. That’s all there is to it.”

— Sandie Johns, Moffat County School Board president, on a judge’s ruling that finds the state’s school funding model unconstitutional

A Colorado Association of School Boards convention turned into a scene of jubilation Dec. 9 when the decision in the Lobato vs. State of Colorado case was announced.

News that the judge had ruled in favor of the plaintiffs elicited tears and applause, said Sandie Johns, Moffat County School Board president.

She was at the convention in Colorado Springs, along with other Moffat County School Board members and administrators.

“It was pretty exciting,” she said.

She and other local educators had reason to be interested in the case’s outcome.

The Moffat County School Board moved in June 2010 to join the lawsuit against several state entities, including the State Board of Education and the governor’s office.

The complaint contended that the state’s school funding system fails to “establish and maintain a thorough and uniform” public education system, according to the website for Children’s Voices, a nonprofit Colorado law firm that handled the case for the plaintiffs.

The issue went to court during a month-long trial late this summer, in which educators and administrators — including Superintendent Joe Petrone and then-Assistant Superintendent Christine Villard— offered testimony about school funding for rural districts.

School administrators and educators from across the state painted a picture of the school finance system that was “irrational, inadequate and unplanned,” Sheila A. Rappaport, Denver District Court judge, wrote in her ruling on the case.

The judge concluded that the state’s public education system is “significantly underfunded,” she wrote in the ruling, and referred to a report that found school district’s operating budgets are underfunded by about $1.94 billion combined annually.

Kathy Gebhardt, who works for Children’s Voices and is lead counsel for the plaintiffs, praised the judge’s ruling.

“(I’m) thrilled that the constitutional rights of Colorado’s more than 800,000 students have been vindicated so that they can finally receive the education they need and deserve to be prepared for college, citizenship, and a 21st century workforce,” she said in a news release.

Gebhardt could not be reached for additional comment.

The ruling calls for an overhaul of the state’s school funding system, a task that falls to the state legislature.

The decision doesn’t guarantee the end of the case. The state will likely appeal a ruling issued in favor of the plaintiffs, Gebhardt said in October.

The ruling is “a step in the right direction,” to making the school funding system more equitable, Johns said.

“Anything we can do to change the funding system in our state … just has to happen,” she said. “That’s all there is to it.”