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December 10, 2011 02:31 AM UTC

BREAKING: Judge Rules In Favor Of Lobato Case Plaintiffs

  • by: Colorado Pols

UPDATE #3: Ed News Colorado:

“We think it’s a great day for the children of Colorado,” said a jubilant Kathleen Gebhardt, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys, who was giving a presentation on the lawsuit at the Colorado Association of School Boards convention when she got the news. “We’re calling on the legislature to step up immediately and fix the problem.”

Mike Saccone, spokesman for Attorney General John Suthers, said, “We are going to consult with the governor in the coming days on this decision. However, if you read the opinion, the judge clearly invited an appeal and, at this point, an appeal is likely. The attorney general is disappointed in the ruling but not surprised. It was clearly very tempting for the judge to wade into what is a public policy debate.”

The lawsuit did not include a dollar figure or ask Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport to order the state to pay up or provide a specific amount. Instead, it asked the court to decide whether the state school finance system fails to meet constitutional requirements and if the legislature should be ordered to come up with a new one…

Studies done for the plaintiffs estimate that “full funding” of Colorado schools could cost $2 to $4 billion more a year than the state spends now. Such increases would wreck the state budget and decimate other programs say Gov. John Hickenlooper, a defendant, and Suthers, who oversaw the state’s defense.


UPDATE #2: A meaty but by no means comprehensive excerpt from Judge Sheila Rappaport’s massive tome of a ruling follows–read the whole decision here, and get comfortable because it’s going to take awhile. Please liberally post excerpts of your own (it’s public domain after all) from any part of the decision you find noteworthy. And the bottom line on page 182:

The Court finds that the Colorado public school finance system is unconstitutional. Evidence establishes that the finance system must be revised to assure that funding is rationally related to the actual costs of providing a thorough and uniform system of public education. It is also apparent that increased funding will be required. [Pols emphasis] These are appropriately legislative and executive functions in the first instance. Thus, the Supreme Court has directed that this Court shall “provide the legislature with an appropriate period of time to change the funding system so as to bring the system in compliance with the Colorado Constitution.”

Read it again. This really is that big.


UPDATE: FOX 31’s Eli Stokols:

In a landmark case over education funding, a judge has sided with a group of parents and school districts and ruled that the state of Colorado is underfunding its schools, possibly by billions of dollars…

The decision will likely be appealed by the state, which said before the trial began that a ruling for the plaintiffs would force Colorado to direct roughly $4 billion in additional funding toward schools, leaving little money in the general fund to adequately fund other needs like transportation, corrections and health care.

The state already spends close to half its general fund on education, although per pupil funding has been in steady decline over the last decade with Colorado now spending $2,000 less per student than the national average.


Details coming: a few minutes ago, Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport ruled in favor of plaintiffs in the landmark Lobato vs. Colorado lawsuit filed by rural school districts–which charged that public education funding in the state of Colorado is not meeting the “thorough and uniform” test prescribed in the state constitution. Though subject to appeal, this is a major development that could well result in sweeping changes to Colorado fiscal policy.

We’ll update shortly with coverage and statements.

Page 158: The State introduced testimony from several members of the State Board of Education and other witnesses for its case-in-chief. However, the Court notes that much of the State’s testimony actually bolstered Plaintiffs’ arguments in this case, and certain other contrary testimony lacked factual support…

Page 176: The Court has found that in 1993 the General Assembly adopted HB 93-1313 that committed the State to develop and implement standards-based education as the anchor to the educational accountability system. HB 93-1313 was the foundation for the transformation of public education in Colorado. In 1994, the General Assembly adopted the Public School Finance Act of 1994 (the PSFA), the centerpiece of the school finance system. The PSFA established the basic funding mechanism for school district general fund (operating) revenues that has been in place since then. From this contemporaneous starting point, the two systems, which were not aligned to begin with, have radically diverged.

The following findings are essentially undisputed: When the PSFA was enacted, the General Assembly set the statewide base funding amount by working backwards from the total funding that it intended to appropriate and carrying forward preexisting school district expenditure levels. There was no effort to analyze the relationship to the actual costs to provide an education of any particular quality. The failure to do any cost analysis and to provide for funding based on such an analysis demonstrates the irrationality of the existing school finance system. Montoy v. State of Kansas, 102 P.3d 1160, 1164 (KS 2005).

In the past two years, the General Assembly, through the implementation of a negative factor, has actually decreased public school funding by what now totals nearly one billion dollars. The amount of the budget cuts and the method by which they were implemented are completely unrelated to the costs of providing the mandated standards-based education system. The budget cuts have aggravated the irrationality of the finance system by arbitrarily reducing funding with no educational rationale whatsoever…

Recent amendments to the standards-based education system have substantially increased the costs of public education. In 2008 the General Assembly adopted CAP4K, that mandated a complete revision of state content standards, programs of instruction, and assessments all aligned to accomplish universal student proficiency and postsecondary and workforce readiness. This was followed in 2009 by the Education Accountability Act that established accreditation standards for school districts based upon meeting the goals of CAP4K and imposed sanctions up to and including district closure for failure to meet those goals within fixed time frames. Most recently, the 2010 effective teachers amendments (SB 10-191) imposed new teacher and principal evaluation systems founded in student growth as measured by achievement on CSAP and other standardized tests…

The evidence also establishes that funding for categorical programs and for capital construction are completely unrelated to the actual costs of providing the services and facilities necessary to meet the mandate of the Education Clause. Capital construction funding in particular is now and has always been totally dependent on highly unequal local property tax wealth. For many school districts, particularly those in rural, poverty areas this method of funding capital needs has proved to be fundamentally inadequate, inequitable, and irrational. The recently adopted BEST program provides limited assistance, but is not sufficient to overcome generations of statutory underfunding. The deplorable conditions of numerous rural schools bears witness to this proposition.

The Court therefore concludes that the entire system of public school finance, including the PSFA, categorical programs, and capital construction funding, is not rationally related to the mandate of the Education Clause.

Page 177: The public school finance system falls short of providing sufficient funding to meet the mandate of the Education Clause and standards-based education.

Defendants contend that it is not possible to analyze the costs of meeting the mandates of the Education Clause. If that argument were accepted, the Education Clause and the directives of the Supreme Court would be meaningless. To the contrary, the standards-based education system provides a comprehensively detailed model of education standards, programs, assessments, and achievement goals. The costs of meeting those mandates can be rationally estimated.

Page 178: Due to lack of access to adequate financial resources, the Plaintiff School Districts and the school districts where Individual Plaintiffs reside (collectively, the “School Districts”) are unable to provide the educational programs, services, instructional materials, equipment, technology, and capital facilities necessary to assure all children an education that meets the mandates of the Education Clause and standards-based education.

The Court finds that due to the irrational funding system and significant underfunding, rural and urban poverty School Districts are unable to hire, compensate, and retain effective, highly qualified teachers and administrators; to provide the curriculum, technology, textbooks, and other instructional materials necessary to meet student performance expectations; and to construct, maintain, renovate school buildings and facilities. Many of these School Districts are relegated to obsolete textbooks and materials, lack of necessary computers and internet connectivity, and dilapidated and unsafe classroom and other facilities. These School Districts have been for many years and are today unable to respond effectively to the changing demands of standards-based education.

Page 182: The Court finds that the Colorado public school finance system is unconstitutional. Evidence establishes that the finance system must be revised to assure that funding is rationally related to the actual costs of providing a thorough and uniform system of public education. It is also apparent that increased funding will be required. These are appropriately legislative and executive functions in the first instance. Thus, the Supreme Court has directed that this Court shall “provide the legislature with an appropriate period of time to change the funding system so as to bring the system in compliance with the Colorado Constitution.”


102 thoughts on “BREAKING: Judge Rules In Favor Of Lobato Case Plaintiffs

  1. We simply cannot balance our state budget under current Constitutional restraints if we have to meet the “thorough and uniform” provision under this case.

    There is only one solution here: a referendum for higher taxes or one to eliminate some part of TABOR.

    1. But hold on.

      Won’t this destroy all those other liberal programs you are so dependent on as we easy into $4 billion in new funding?

      And what happens when the people tell the court to go get bent on raising taxes?

      And what happens when many of the businesses decide hummm salt lake ain’tt such a bad spot for our regional HQ.

      What happens then you big government knucklehead?

      1. The options are to raise taxes to cover the costs of having a “thorough and uniform” education system, to cut other government programs to the tune of however many billions it takes to meet the court order, or I suppose to eliminate the Education Clause from the state constitution.

        And the consequences of the people of the state ignoring this decision in the almost-guaranteed upcoming referendum would certainly be a mass migration by companies and people out of the state over the next decade, because the state legislature would then be in a bind with the court.

        There are many details to be worked out, and many moving parts that will be rearranged due to this decision (e.g. local school taxes will probably be lowered across the board as the state is now required by court order to uniformly fund a thorough education…).  This will take up a significant part of next year’s legislative session.

        1. By “local school taxes will probably be lowered” I mean this only in a best solution scenario where the state (with Federal education dollars included) provides the base level of funding required to fully provide for each student’s education based on state standards (i.e. if the state standard dictates 12 years of English, then it has to fund schools to teach 12 years of English to each student).  The local districts would be responsible for money above and beyond this base level, e.g. funding non-mandated arts, PE classes and after-school activities.

      2. I guess Education and Health Care are “liberal” government programs.

        Hooray for liberals! Boo Conservatives!

        How about Corrections, Judicial or Public Safety? Liberal  or Conservative?

        Starting with the largest GENERAL fund line items (FY2012-13):

        Education $2.8 Billion

        Health Care $1.7 Billion

        Corrections $0.63 Billion

        Higher Education $0.62 Billion

        Human Services $0.61 Billion

        Judicial $0.34 Billion

        Public Safety $0.08 Billion

        The TOTAL fund includes things like Federal $$, fees, gasoline taxes, etc. Some of the Federal money requires the state to provide matching, so spending 50 cents of Colorado tax money gets us another 50 cents (or whatever) of our federal tax dollars back. Pretty good deal, because if we don’t, then it goes to Texas or one of those Red states that get more federal money.

        There is also LOCAL funding from Sales and Property taxes.

    2. I grew up in Colorado and our schools were always well funded throughout the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.

      What happened?

      How did we increase the population AND tax base of Colorado from less than 1 million people prior to 1980 to nearly 4 million people today in 2011 yet have crumbling schools and illiterate children to show for it?

      Obviously there has been some serious mismanagement of all those tax dollars the state of Colorado has received.  

  2. The state is given a reasonable time to comply, and enforcement is further stayed until the end of the 2012 leg session or Supreme Court review.

    From the decision:

    Based upon all of the foregoing, and applying the standard enunciated by the Supreme Court, the Court concludes that the Colorado public school finance system is not rationally related to the mandate to establish and maintain a thorough and uniform system of free public schools. On the contrary, the public school finance system is irrational, arbitrary, and severely underfunded. This results in the denial of the rights of the Individual Plaintiffs guaranteed by Article IX, section 2 of the Colorado constitution and the rights and powers of the School Districts pursuant to Article IX, sections 2 and 15.

    The remedy (in part):

    Defendants are further enjoined to design, enact, fund, and implement a system of

    public school finance that provides and assures that adequate, necessary, and sufficient funds are available in a manner rationally related to accomplish the purposes of the Education Clause and the Local Control Clause

    1. Unless the court decides that legislative action putting a referendum on the ballot constitutes compliance, the state needs until at least January 2013 or perhaps even January 2014 (tax issues on odd-numbered years) to actually enact a system that would meet compliance guidelines.

      The state on its own does not have enough free funds in the budget to meet the requirements IMHO, and cannot raise enough money absent a referendum or initiative.

      1. A ruling that there is underfunding on the merits, but often few remedies other than a toothless order to the legislature to do something about it that can last for many years.

    1. First there has to be a public vote to call one. Then the delegates have to be elected (2 from each senate district). After that, their new constitution has to be approved by the voters.

      So if the state voted in 2012 to have a convention, the delegates could be elected in Nov. 2013, work throughout 2014, possibly have it ready for a vote that Nov., but it would likely be in Nov. 2015.

        1. The number of members of the convention shall be twice that of the senate and they shall be elected in the same manner, at the same places, and in the same districts

          (1) A general election for members of the general assembly shall be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in each even-numbered year, at such places in each county as now are or hereafter may be provided by law.

          There are always other interpretations, mine is that you are correct.

  3. Ever since the leg and gov started playing with the “factors” to cut K-12 spending, I knew the state was in trouble on Lobato.  However, this decision is stronger than I expected. (some information on factors… )

    My favorite quote:

    Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport has ruled that the state may not use TABOR (the Taxpayer Bill of Rights) as an excuse. She ruled: “The Court finds that while fiscal pressure may explain why students’ rights have been violated, it has no bearing on the issue whether students’ rights have been violated. That is, Defendants cannot, as a legal matter, excuse the legislature’s failure to comply with the mandates of the Education Clause by pointing to seemingly difficult decisions. The evidence of non-education appropriations and the effects of TABOR are distinct from students or the actual quality of the education they receive. The quality of the public school system provided to students must stand or fall on its own. The quality of that system cannot logically be saved or enhanced by the legislature’s desire to spend money on other programs or tax credits.”

    Next question:  where does the money come from?

    1. There’s nowhere we can adequately get this money from.  The decision essentially re-centralizes school funding to a great degree – in order to meet the order, the State will have to guarantee at least adequate funding to each and every district in the state.

      If the judge fails to clarify this by allowing a year for a referendum to pass, then the state will be obligated under the ruling to drop many extremely necessary programs; higher education would need to be fully privatized, transportation funding (complete with matching funds) might be cut, unemployment insurance terms could be cut, and we might figure out if we can chop Medicaid to pay for it.  After all, none of those things are in the Constitution – education is.

      1. Schools not prisons

        Start by unwinding 1985 Mielke-Arnold which took away sentencing options for judges.

        Before Mielke-Arnold corrections was 3% of the state budget, today it is closer to 10%.

        I’d also take a look at any law having to do with juvenile crime passed between the 1993 special session and the 1996 session.  A lot of very expensive laws were passed in this period.  The laws were passed out of fear of growing youth violence, when the actual data did not support the fear.

        Personally I would rather pay to educate kids, than to incarcerate them.

    2. If that is what she thinks, she is wrong. TABOR was passed after the education clause was placed in the Colorado Constitution and therefore TABOR controls. I don’t like TABOR at all, but a judge cannot amend the state constitution.

  4. are told they can’t get big fat tax payer financed discount coupons  for expensive private schools and now this. Will it no longer pay to be affluent and privileged? Will just any old child of the unwashed masses be able to get just as good a public education as those who can afford the best neighborhoods with the best public schools? Don’t worry 2 percenters. It’s not that bad yet.  

  5. My daughters all went to Fairview High School which I think by any measure is a really good high school. But I think it a reasonable assumption to say that money alone can’t bring a lot of the state schools up to that level. While Fairview doesn’t need more funding to meet the thorough level.

    So is this primarily a funding issue? Or is this a fix the schools issue?

    1. This is a funding issue first.  The state’s funding is inadequate and uneven; rural and poor districts cannot meet the “thorough and uniform” standard given the funding mix of Federal, State, and Local dollars

      The judge argues that the standards efforts passed in recent years give some target for what “thorough” means – and it means that, generally, schools throughout the state will not be able to meet that goal without increased funding.

      The “uniform” part is, I believe, directed at the ever-decreasing portion of school budgets distributed by the state and Federal governments.

      1. by firing more teachers?

        Look, if you grant the premise that some teachers are better than others, then it stands to reason that there is a BEST teacher. Now every student who isn’t being taught by the BEST teacher is getting screwed by the system. Furthermore, studies have shown[1] that class size doesn’t matter. So the obvious solution is to fire all but the BEST teacher and have everyone in the state attend class with that teacher. This might be impractical[2], so we can just do it online. Or maybe with a 3D printer.

        We could even start paying that one teacher a decent salary.

        [1] If I wanted to cite a study, I would have said “A study showed.” Since I’m too lazy to do that, I’ve used the plural.

        [2] But shouldn’t we at least TRY, you Luddites?  

  6. Judge Rappaport chose not to strike down TABOR, but let’s talk about how the hell we rationally comply with this judgment demanding rationality with one hand irrationally tied behind our backs.

    1. I predict that there will be several in the legislature that will see this as a great excuse to cut back on funding across the board, not increase the funding to the poorer districts.

      It’s easier, it fits their anti-public education philosophy, and it really doesn’t impact their wealthy constituents who already attend private schools.

      “… we really hate to cut back any more, but we don’t have enough money;  we have to cut back on funding more to more schools so that everything’s equal everywhere.  Blame the liberal, activist judiciary — not us.”

      1. That’s the exact opposite action than dictated by the ruling, which says the state specifically must increase its funding for education to provide the “thorough and uniform” education guaranteed to citizens by the state Constitution.

        Well, they could cut back, but any deliberate action in this direction could be seen as contempt.

          1. Is there no school system in Colorado that doesn’t somewhere provide an already more-than-thorough education that could not take a cut back to merely-thorough?

            Too many conflicting and diametrically opposed sovereignty issues — no way is Supreme Court going to dismantle the State Constitution over an education funding case.  I’ll bet Mitt’s $10,000 that this judge’s assertion that the state can not meet the “thorough and uniform” requirement by cutting back some in the already-more-than-minimally-thorough wealthy districts is the very first casualty at the Supreme Court.

            1. that the state cannot simply enact legislation to take money from sovereign districts that are above the “thorough” standard and move that money to other districts – at least not above and beyond the base level state funding grant to the district, and that won’t be enough to even put a dent in the problem.

              Hence the need to increase state taxes to a point where they pay for the entire “thorough and uniform” funding mandate.

              I predict that the first – and perhaps only – thing to go is the deadline.

          1. That will be a major issue decided on appeal.  I don’t think that the court will agree that she gave proper deference.

            And, from a jurisprudential point of view, I hope that the Appeals Court (or Sup. Ct.) finds that she did not give proper deference.  Broadly interpreting vague constitutional language in order to overturn tough decisions made by democratically-elected representatives is a very dangerous path to follow.  

            1. The suit was filed on Constitutional grounds – the judge couldn’t just ignore the Constitution when making the ruling.

              And if the courts never did this, then we would never have any enforcement of the Constitution.  It’s inevitable that a lawsuit challenging the state on this provision would reach a court; if Giardino hadn’t been settled, it would have also challenged this provision.

              1. I understand that courts need to step in when the Const. is violated.  I just don’t think the judge should read a phrase like “thorough and uniform” and impose a specific dollar amount of funding to satisfy it. Judges should only take the drastic step of finding a law unconstitutional where there is a very clear violation. When the Const. language is vague, it is even harder to find a violation (just due to the nature of the language’s opaqueness).  I don’t think that high burden was met here.

                In the end, I just think it is vastly superior policy to have a democratically-elected body interpret what a phrase like “thorough and uniform” means.  

                1. And I agree with the judge that we haven’t met the standard, however vague.

                  Rural schools cannot afford to keep the teachers and facilities required to teach the children they are sent.  That seems to be a pretty clear indication that the funding system is fully and totally broken.

          1. I don’t understand how you can claim that this rule is not germane? The judge recognizes this in the opinion, and is a rule that guides the the judge’s decision on the ultimate question: whether the legislature’s decision was rational. When deciding rationality, she must decide how deferential she must be. And “significant deference” is a high standard.

            And doesn’t the judge specifically say that the constraints imposed by TABOR cannot be used as an excuse?  

  7. Assuming the Colorado Supreme Court either declines to review (hah!) or declares the judge’s verdict valid in the main, where does this go from here?

    1. The State must determine based on the court ruling what a uniform and thorough education means.
    2. The State must determine how it will pay for the new program.  That includes whether to take over all funding up to the new uniform and thorough standard or to figure out how much the poorest local districts can afford to contribute.  It also includes deciding how much has to come from new taxes, where to cut spending and what taxes to raise.
    3. All of it has to be codified and sent in for fiscal review, then voted on.
    4. There is no real chance that the solution doesn’t include a referred measure on a tax increase.  So look for a tax measure on your 2012 ballot to fund our schools properly.

    Of course, this could all break down at Step 3 if Republicans in the House decide they don’t want to refer a tax measure.  But if the Supreme Court finalizes this decision, I am betting that the right votes will come forward to move the needed reforms through.

    The tax referendum might be a good chance to refer to voters a more comprehensive tax reform package that coincidentally simplifies state-wide sales tax procedures for out-of-state purchases at the same time.

      1. Unless they want to commit one final act of screwing the state over prior to finding themselves in a permanent and small minority, they will find the votes to at least refer the tax measure and then let their political allies fight it out in the court of public opinion and hope for the worst (possible outcome for the state’s children).

        This is the basic system of public education we’re talking about, not tinkering around the edges.  If Republicans decide to use this as a political football they’ll get crucified at the election booth come November.

          1. Not a lot, mind you – the state GOP has shifted to the right in recent years.  But the state House has proven itself able to get some things done that it doesn’t necessarily find palatable during last year’s session, and I think that this issue is big enough that they will see the cartoon anvil hanging over their heads before it hits them.  Just a hunch, mind you – I’ll certainly allow that the cynical view might win out in the end.

            1. can be relied upon for rational thought. One problem is not many (D’s and R’s) understood the school finance act before – makes it harder to find a solution (your step 3).

              Call me cynical, but I don’t see this happening in 2012. There is little, if any, chance that 1) legislators will agree on a system of funding education, 2) the fiscal cost could be met, 3) a ballot measure could be agreed upon, or 4) the fiscal cost could be met :).

              Not even the courts can get blood from a stone.

              I think legislators know that the court shamed the state with this ruling, but when education avocates come calling for money, the question is going to be, once again, where does it come from? If the answer is prisons, that is going to be a very tough political sell too (early releases, early paroles, examining sentencing reform within the timeframe of the legislature, loss of jobs, impact on other states whose prisoners we house…) Even if we accomplish all that we haven’t paid into community corrections, post release programs, drug treatment programs, mental health programs…the recidivism will take a toll on communities.

              Barring action from the legislature in 2012, is it possible another Heath type proposal will emerge. This would be even more f***d up since voters would be trying to solve a constitutional fiscal problem by passing another (constitutional) ballot initiative.

    1. Are we talking bring all funding up to the level of BVSD so we have uniform funding. But each district then is on its own to be as effective? (And even BVSD has some poorly performing schools.)

      Or are we talking keep pouring more money in until we get the same results as the top BVSD schools across the state?

      If it’s the second I think we’re facing a gigantic issue because mo’ money won’t equalize results. The big argument from people like Diane Ravitch is that family income level is the primary determination. So short of making every family middle class, I don’t see how this can be solved with just money.

      But if the answer is just equal funding, I don’t see how unequal results meets thorough & uniform.

      1. A) BVSD is not the gold standard.

        B) The Colorado Constitution says “thorough and uniform.”

        I’m sure it sounded great in 1876.   Hell, I’m sure it sounded pretty great in 1976.  And it still sounded pretty good in 1994 when we passed the School Finance Act.

        The problem is not that you and your kids have BVSD and others want it, but that the constitutional language of  thorough and uniform and the practical implementation of the SFA somehow conflict.

        Have you read any of the relevant documents?

        Can you reconcile the Constitution with the legislation of the past 17 years with equal funding?  Neither did the court.

          1. Way way more.

            But that’s the argument the GOTP will want to have.  Cede the frame- lose.

            If this challenge boils down to more money from the big 6 (DPS, Jeffco, DougCoPS, CCSD, Adams and BVS) for everyone else, it loses.

            If it’s about local control, we’ll see.

            If it’s about defining thorough and uniform and building 21st century schools, infrastructure and curricula, for 21st century students, then we all win.

  8. You’re all so …overeactionish.

    At the risk of misunderestimating anything, thoutough and uniform was written 135 years ago. No problem – we just take the schools back to whatever they were then.  Problem solved.

  9. Will the voters understand that the decades of parsimony has consequences? That following the example of Colorado Springs into a deep hole does mean forced payments?

    There is precedent for a court ordered tax to pay for schools. I can see that happening if the legislature, especially if the teabag republicans play games with semantics and lies.

    Cheers for education – the bane of republicans.

  10. One fundamental limit that no amount of wishful thinking can break is that no cost can increase at a rate greater than inflation indefinitely. Yes we absolutely need to provide a really good education to all of our children. But we have to do it within our available resources.

    Note that this is constant dollars:

    That growth curve is not sustainable. I think it also illustrates that just throwing money at the problem isn’t going to resolve it.

    I think the decision handed down is a good thing as we clearly are not providing a quality education to a lot of our children. But I hope the response is to figure out how to improve the system, not just increase the budget.

    Because if more money doesn’t improve things, the giant shame will not be the wasted money, it will be the children we failed.

    More useful info at 10 Facts About K-12 Education Funding including this tidbit:

    Even in this current time of the war against terror, taxpayer investment in education exceeds that for national defense. In addition to the K-12 money mentioned above[$536 billion], taxpayers will spend an estimated $373 billion for higher education in the same school year. As depicted on the chart below, the United States is a world leader in education investment. However, nations that spend far less achieve higher levels of student performance.

    1. when you can rant against all state Democratic politicians for not supporting Rollie Heath’s funding proposal and simultaneously try desperately to persuade people that more money for education is not needed.  

        1. do you consider “broken”

          You have a persistent need to buy into the reactionary right’s framing of the status of education in the US.

          For example, are you aware that, in math, black students nationwide achieve better results now than white students did 20 years ago?  Is that not a significant achievement (even though there is more to achieve)?

          1. And that’s just the students who didn’t drop out before High School (source). And keep in mind many of those graduates are in no way prepared for College. How would you describe those results?

            Improvements are great and should be celebrated. But just as a student who raises his grades from 40% to 50% should be congratulated for improvement, they also need to be reminded that 50% is still an F.

            1. all of them want to graduate.  48%

              Of the 52?  I’d guess 1/2.  no source, because no one trusts the kinds of studies that would document the issue.

              English Language Learners graduate in lower numbers than their native English classmates.  

              Students who attend the same school, or in the same school district, for more than 3 years prior to graduation graduate in much higher numbers than their mobile classmates.

              Students who see a path to employment and success that requires hs graduate in higher numbers than their classmates.

              Sometimes the bar is set to measure the wrong thing. Other times, the bar measures the impact of factors that are external to the school district performance.    ANd sometimes it’s just a place to watch the Broncos game.

    2. First, that’s nationwide. Not Colorado.  Colorado’s chart would look substantially different.

      Second, we have not come close even nationwide to approaching the kind of funding for the average child that would allow them to achieve their full potential.  I’m talking: private tutors, instrumental music lessons in elementary school, foreign language instruction in kindergarten, universal pre-K, massive hands-on science education.

      Right now, we’re like a bunch of dogs arguing whether 2 or instead 3 bones is sufficient.

    3. “really good” does not sound like “thorough and uniform” to me.  But I’m not a judge.

      “…nations …. higher levels of student performance.”

      Often at the expense of universal access, and with the benefit of cultural unity.

    4. And the way you reposted it while discarding the ensuing conversation indicates to me you don’t care about the factors leading to this graph, which include: increases in special education spending, much more demanding curriculum, more students (esp. girls and in agricultural areas) staying for full college prep graduation, capital (re-)construction costs, higher demand for better facilities (including high-end football fields)…

      If we cannot maintain this curve, then it stands to reason that we have to stop doing some of these things.  I think we’ve hit a plateau for the increase in students staying for college prep graduation, and I hope we’ll be leveling off soon on curriculum.  We are stuck with capital construction costs, though we might be able to level off a bit.

      BTW – I think it’s sad that we spend more on national defense than the entire K-12 system spends on our children.

  11. I’ve always wondered how it was possible that education funding was so unequal across the state. I understand that people exist (Libertarians, Home-schoolers, Childless people) who oppose equal education for all out of ignorance or for selfish or ideological/religious reasons. But, we live in a social structure where you often benefit indirectly, or at different parts of your life.

    What a wonderful thing that “Thorough and Uniform” happens to be in the constitution!

    A high percentage of school funding comes from property taxes which are much higher  in wealthier districts (certainly on a per-pupil basis). Thus the long-standing unequal distribution of funding. From the perspective of wealthier school districts, this has been considered to be a feature, not a bug.

    The state could easily solve the UNIFORM requirement by distributing income tax/general budget money away from wealthier districts. That may not satisfy the THOROUGH requirement.

    I have faith that you can get people to support increased taxes when they know what they are paying for. Thus, I believe you can market a “Thorough and Uniform Education Equalization Bill”.

    The words “Thorough and Uniform” seems pretty clear and obvious. They are in the  constitution, were cited in this ruling, and they are also good marketing and good framing.

    So, get all the political leaders in the state to support a tax increase for “Thorough and Uniform Education for All Colorado”.

    1. The homeowners in the well funded by local contributions districts mostly live there because they value education.  And/or they know that the neighbors who do will protect property values.

      JeffCo, Littleton, Boulder, CCSD, and Cheyenne Mountain aren’t going to be in favor of seeing “uniform and thorough” be redefined to mean that the $/pupil budget must be  equalized across the state so other districts with lower mill levy and lower property values drain away the state contribution.

      1. JeffCo, Littleton, Boulder, CCSD, and Cheyenne Mountain aren’t going to be in favor of seeing “uniform and thorough” be redefined to mean that the $/pupil budget must be  equalized across the state so other districts with lower mill levy and lower property values drain away the state contribution.

        The Uniform standard fails precisely because wealthier districts have been willing to put more taxes to education. The State and the FEds (usually?) allocate by per-pupil or by specific programs like subsidized lunch. The big imbalance is almost completely due to difference in property taxes.

        I agree that people often move to the suburbs or towns for the quality of the schools, but I don’t think that was relevant to the Judge’s decision.

        Maybe if we had Thorough and Uniform school funding, people would know their child could get a decent education anywhwere.

      2. Full disclosure: I went to Littleton High School, which benefits from a relatively high mill levy and relatively high property values. So yeah, the school that provided me with an awesome public education may end up being one of the “losers” under this decision, provided that it survives appeal.

        However, Judge Rappaport’s decision is a critical step in providing adequate schooling to kids in rural Colorado. You’re right, obviously – parents who care and who can afford the cost migrate to areas like JeffCo and Littleton to make sure that their kids go to good schools. But kids‘ futures shouldn’t be decided by their parents’ unwillingness or inability to make that choice. Everyone deserves the same education that I got, and if everyone can’t have that level of education, then I didn’t deserve it any more than anyone else. And that is the most important takeaway from the court’s decision.

        This isn’t about politics, and it’s not about a left-wing/right-wing struggle over TABOR. It’s about the single most populous class that must be defended by the courts simply because it is excluded from participating in every other part of our democracy: our state’s children.

        1. I took a quick look at the CSAP scores by district size and it’s the largest districts with the lowest scores. So if the rural schools are graduating a higher percentage, then doesn’t thorough and uniform apply most to DPS if it has the lowest scores?

          1. that per-pupil funding is lower for rural schools than for the inner city (I work in DPS, and there’s money in the schools, though not enough). But I’d need to look at the figures again.

    2. I think what is required is “we are going to take the following steps that research has shown will significantly improve the schools providing a Thorough and Uniform Education for all students. These steps will require the following tax increase.”

      You have to show what exactly is needed in increased funding and how that will deliver the results.

    3. But the local/state/federal funding mix almost has to change under this ruling.

      IMHO the state must find enough funds to fully provide for a statewide “uniform” education that “thoroughly” meets the state’s education standards.  That means a large state-level tax increase.  But it also means that the districts can lower their mil levies on a dollar-for-dollar basis and overall taxes would go up only enough to meet the “thorough and uniform” standard throughout the state.

      I think it would be a mistake to try to re-balance limited state resources based on the wealth of a district and its local funding.  Better to re-balance so that the full base education funding comes from state and federal funds only, and let the districts pay for any perks they can afford after that.  And it would be hard given the state’s non-uniform property assessment to “transfer” mil levies from local governments to a state level, though some kind of automated transfer of the balance of funding would be nice as part of a solution.

      1. The lack of uniformity comes almost entirely from the variation in local property tax revenue. The Court said that the State of Colorado is required to remedy the “Thorough and Uniform” problem, but I don’t think the State has a direct ability to change property taxes.

        This logic leads to the conclusion that the State is required to fix the lack of uniformity by compensating the school districts with insufficient property taxes.

        This will come from general revenue or else from a new tax proposal. (Do you see any other source of funding?)

        People do value education, so I am arguing to take the (difficult but direct) path of a state tax referendum for the purpose of funding education. You can then make the specific case: “Your taxes are going to education”.

        I know people don’t want their taxes raised in a recession. I also know specific groups have ideological or practical issues with raising taxes (for example, Libertarians and the poor).

        Frankly, I would prefer to increase the general fund by making the state tax code much more progressive: let’s say 10% for the upper third.  

        1. The general fund isn’t so large that it could withstand a frontal assault of the scale required to fix education funding.

          The State, via referendum, certainly could affect property taxes – the local governments, after all, get their power from the state via the state constitution.  But TABOR limits the complexity of any ballot issue, so I think the legislature pretty much has to go for a straight-up tax measure.

  12. that TABOR overrules/overpowers/rescinds this very important part of the CO Constitution?

    If the Supremes decline to hear (accept) or affirm then I’ll predict, since humans are always looking for an easy answer no matter how short term, that CO will sell all the lad that is held by the Land Board which might hold them for 2 years or so

  13. I think the ruling does bring the local v. state tax support of school districts to the forefront.

    For the most part school districts pay their own way. And for the most part school tax/mill levies have been voted down by the good citizens of Colorado.

    This ruling puts into play how will Colorado change to fund the public school systems? From experience I can say the Republicans are quite happy watching the public school system fail. “Home Schooling” “vouchers” and whatever else they come up with to send their children to far right religious institutes is on top. The rest of the world is best as ignorant chattel.

    The challenge is to change the funding mechanism of the western states schools. It can be done. But it requires getting the state to understand that being cheap asses is not the way.

  14. Underfunded rural school districts are often at the mercy of weirdly specific or unstable grant processes. In northern Weld County, much of the agricultural property is owned by the City of Thornton and the people who live there lease the land. Of course Thornton doesn’t pay taxes to school districts. What that has resulted in is poorly maintained school buildings and infrastructure but a redone football field (grant), new computers and projectors for classrooms (grant) but decades old textbooks, and the elimination of the school library.

    Because so much of the school is funded through grants and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, teachers are encouraged to not only mold curriculum to pass standardized tests, but also to do as much as possible to allow the school to qualify for competitive grants. It’s similar to university departments scrabbling for research funding except that the fads in K-12 education dictate that grant-making organizations change focus on a regular basis. Where stable, well-funded suburban schools can develop a curriculum that works for their kids and grow with experience, underfunded schools are left to the whims of whoever offers to pay the bills and give their students a shotgunned splatter of gee whiz technology instead of a well planned education.  

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