State will appeal school funding lawsuit

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Colorado State Capitol

DENVER — The state will formally appeal a judge’s decision in a landmark lawsuit over education funding, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in Lobato v. Colorado that state funding levels for K-12 education are unconstitutional in that they do not provide every student a “thorough and uniform” education, as mandated under the state Constitution.

Following the decision, Hickenlooper indicated that the state, which could be forced to provide an additional $2-4 billion annually to schools if the decision is upheld, was almost certain to appeal.

As of Wednesday, that appeal is now official.

“It is clear after closely reviewing the judge’s decision in Lobato v. Coloradoand consulting with Attorney General John Suthers that a final resolution of the constitutional and legal issues involved in the case require an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court,” Hickenlooper said in a statement.

“The judge’s decision provided little practical guidance on how the state should fund a ‘thorough and uniform’ system of public education. 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.

“There are more appropriate venues for a vigorous and informed public debate about the state’s spending priorities. 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.”

When the ruling came down, one education advocate called it “the most important thing to happen to Colorado kids in 30 years.”

Prior to the lawsuit, which took place over five weeks beginning in August, Hickenlooper and Suthers worried that it could force Colorado to spend so much of its general fund on schools that there would be hardly any revenue left over to put toward transportation, health care, prisons and other state agencies.

Colorado already spends roughly half its general fund on education; but the state still ranks near the bottom in per pupil education spending, which is about $2,000 below the national average.