Colorado Governor Hickenlooper announces state will appeal Denver judge’s ruling on Lobato school-funding lawsuit

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper officially announced Wednesday* that the state would appeal Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport’s ruling that the state’s education funding is not “thorough and uniform” as referenced in constitutional language (Colorado Constitution, Article IX, Section 2). Rappaport’s 183-page ruling also paved the way for court-ordered tax increases, stating:

“It is also apparent that increased funding will be required.”

Rappaport’s 183-page opus spends a mere 10 pages even purporting to address issues of law (the remainder is dedicated to a lengthy exposition of the judge’s views on the educational system and her personal opinions on the worthiness of various witnesses) and fails to address how to enforce funding increases in compliance with other constitutional provisions.  As the governor’s statement noted,

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

A Denver Post article (“Gov. Hickenlooper to appeal Lobato education-funding decision to state Supreme Court; state board of education delays its own decision“) also noted the budgetary implications:

The lawsuit seeks no specific sum of money, but plaintiffs have pointed to studies estimating the state is underfunding education by as much as $4 billion.

The state now spends more than 40 percent, or $3.2 billion in the 2010-11 fiscal year that ended in June, of its almost $7 billion general fund on K-12 schools.

Coloradans in November by a two-to-one margin shot down a $3 billion tax increase measure for schools.

Governor Hickenlooper and Attorney General Suthers had earlier warned of “devastating” consequences for the state if the Lobato plaintiffs were successful in forcing additional school spending.

Although the lawsuit (and Rappaport’s ruling) is likely to be overturned (thanks to the departure of former Chief Justice Mullarkey and the more recent resignation of Justice Alex Martinez, 2 of the original 4 votes keeping the Lobato lawsuit alive in 2009 are now gone), appealing the case will cost Colorado taxpayers plenty:

[Mike] Saccone [spokesman for the attorney general’s office] said the legislature has appropriated up to $3.5 million to defend the state against the suit.

This educational-funding lawsuit (seeking to force even higher state educational spending by court order) represents yet another abuse of the courts for the pursuit of political ends – unfortunately aided and abetted by an all-too-complicit (and highly political) majority on the Colorado Supreme Court, which previously (October 2009) overturned two lower courts which had (correctly) dismissed the case (Lobato v. Colorado) as non-justiciable (meaning, a policy issue not to be decided by the courts).

If the courts are able to decide “the future of public education” by judicial fiat, Colorado citizens will have lost all control and accountability over our schools.

The issue of educational funding is NOT one for the courts, but rather for the legislature and/or local school boards. The Lobato lawsuit is a fiscal, legal, and political disaster in the making.

Read more about the Lobato school funding case in these articles:

The Attorney General’s office has also compiled a full list of key pleadings and court decisions in the Lobato case.

Cases such as Lobato – particularly Rappaport’s biased ruling – highlight the importance of fair and impartial courts and of judges who exercise proper restraint (in accordance with the rule of law) in considering – let alone deciding – issues of policy more appropriate for the elected, representative branches of government.  Our courts have an important – even vital – role to play in our society and system of government.  This is not it.

* Governor Hickenlooper responded to a question at a 13 December 2011 town hall event about Lobato that he was leaning towards an appeal, since the court’s ruling “clearly violated TABOR” and Colorado voters had recently rejected a tax increase purportedly targeted for education funding (Prop. 103)

The Constitution says we can’t raise taxes without a vote of the people – the people just voted specifically on more revenues for education, and the people pretty clearly voted 2-to-1 that this was a bad idea. So how can the courts say that we should do it?

Governor Hickenlooper clearly disagreed with Rappaport’s ruling, and clearly expects to win on appeal, since the alternative would plunge the state into a constitutional crisis:

“Let’s say that the Supreme Court agrees with the district court – if that’s the case, then we’ve got the Constitution versus the Supreme Court.”

Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts.  We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.

However, we can’t do it alone –  we need your continued support; via your comments (Sound Off!) and, yes, your contributions.  Freedom isn’t free –nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

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