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Colorado AG: Lawmakers Should Decide School Funding

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(credit: coloradosupremecourt.com)

(credit: coloradosupremecourt.com)

DENVER (AP) – State attorneys say that school funding should be up to the Legislature, not the courts, in a filing Wednesday defending the state against a lawsuit over how it funds education that’s pending in the Colorado Supreme Court.

The Colorado Attorney General’s office said in the filing that education funding is a political question outside the courts’ power. The lawsuit, brought by parents and school districts, contends that how Colorado funds schools violates the state constitutional mandate requiring a “thorough and uniform” education system.

A Denver District judge ruled last year that the state’s educational funding system is “irrational and inadequate” and that there isn’t a single district that is sufficiently funded.

Government attorneys on Wednesday called that ruling an “unprecedented intrusion into public policy” and that the state’s duty to provide free public education doesn’t override legislative discretion or competing budgetary demands.

The case could be heard later this year by the state Supreme Court, with major implications on how lawmakers wrestle with the state budget.

The plaintiffs will issue their own brief within 30 days.

Kathy Gebhardt, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that the state’s brief is notable for “what it does not say.”

“It does not – and cannot – dispute the voluminous evidence brought forth at trial about students who do not have access to the technology, textbooks, programs, and/or coursework necessary to meet standards, succeed academically, or attend college,” she said.

While the plaintiffs did not ask for a monetary amount in the lawsuit, they did estimate that state schools are underfunded by $4 billion.

State officials argue that adding that much more to K-12 education could cripple the Colorado budget because more than 40 percent of the general fund already goes to schools.

Parents and 21 school districts – most of them from rural southern Colorado – filed the lawsuit and initially lost in district court. The appeals court also ruled against them, but the state Supreme Court reversed the rulings in October 2009, sending the case back to district court. The plaintiffs’ attorneys maintain they’re not asking for more money but for funds to be used where they’re needed the most.

“Rather than throw our hands up, let’s finally fix the problem,” said Taylor Lobato, a plaintiff who graduated from Center High School in southern Colorado, and whose name is on the case.

The state attorneys said in the brief that during court arguments the “plaintiffs confirmed they truly ask the judiciary to impose a singular school finance system of their own choosing.” The filing goes on to say that the case is one “where deference to legislative policy decisions should be at its apex.”

The government attorneys also argued that because the lower court declined to hear evidence about Colorado’s limited budget, “the record does not establish an additional four billion dollars even could be allocated to K-12 education.”

- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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