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Final Arguments Set For Colorado School Funding Suit

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A Colorado classroom (credit: CBS)

A Colorado classroom (credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – Closing arguments are expected Friday afternoon in a lawsuit challenging how Colorado funds its education system, a case Gov. John Hickenlooper warns could cost the state billions of dollars.

But attorneys suing the state on behalf of parents and 21 school districts argue they’re not seeking a monetary award. They want a court declaration saying Colorado has violated its constitution and for funds to be used where they’re needed most.

The lawsuit in Denver District Court claims the Colorado Legislature’s funding method violates the state constitution’s promise to provide a “thorough and uniform” education system and puts students in the poorest communities at a disadvantage.

A Denver District judge is expected to issue a ruling in several weeks.

Most of the school districts suing in the state are in rural southern Colorado, an area the plaintiffs’ attorneys said has not received proper financial support from the state.

George Welsh, superintendent of the mostly Hispanic Center School District, testified at the beginning of the trial that schools have resorted to buying used books on Amazon.com and students use outdated curriculum. Welsh testified that the computers schools use only occasionally work and that foreign language courses are taught using Rosetta Stone programs bought by district officials.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund joined in the lawsuit to represent immigrant parents of students learning English as a second language, arguing that Hispanics don’t have the same educational opportunities as students in richer, white districts.

But state officials said Colorado has met its constitutional obligation in funding its education system, more than doubling spending on public education since 1994. More than 40 percent of the budget now goes to education.

Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia testified that the state’s role is to provide money but school districts ultimately have control over how to spend it. The state has also presented testimony from education experts who said more funding doesn’t translate to better results.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said most of the state budget would go to education if the plaintiffs win because the Legislature would be forced to find as much as $4 billion in additional funding for the system. It’s a figure the plaintiffs said is an estimate of how underfunded Colorado schools are.

The lawsuit was filed in 2005. The plaintiffs lost in Denver District Court and the appeals court before the state Supreme Court reversed those decisions in October 2009 and sent the case back to district court. The Supreme Court decision said the lawsuit’s claim that the state’s education system is “severely underfunded and allocates funds on an arbitrary and irrational basis” is justifiable.

The case is expected to go to the Supreme Court again.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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