Lobato plaintiffs lobby Colorado Supreme Court in “Super Bowl of school funding litigation”
Plaintiffs in the ‘Lobato v. Colorado‘ school funding lawsuit filed a Motion last week urging the Colorado Supreme Court to uphold Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport’s 9 Dec 2011 183-page ruling declaring Colorado’s system of school funding “irrational and inadequate” in what a recent Denver Post article described as the “Super Bowl of school funding litigation.”
With significant implications for the state budget, the case is a Super Bowl of school funding litigation [Ed: emphasis added] because if it can drastically change how lawmakers fund schools, or force the state to find additional revenue if the plaintiffs win. Their attorneys claim that schools are underfunded by an estimated $4 billion.
Governor Hickenlooper and Attorney General Suthers had earlier warned of “devastating” consequences for Colorado if the Lobato plaintiffs were successful in forcing additional school spending.
The lawsuit drew the bipartisan opposition of Governor Hickenlooper, Attorney General Suthers, and the State Board of Education (all joining in appealing Rappaport’s ruling last December).
The state Attorney General’s office has argued that Colorado has met its funding obligation. More than 40 percent of the general fund budget goes to K-12 education, and state attorneys argue that other departments will suffer if lawmakers are forced to allocate more money to schools.
The state’s response to the latest plaintiff’s filing is due in 3 weeks; the date for oral arguments has not yet been set.
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:
- “Judicial Overreach” (Pueblo Chieftain editorial, 14 December 2011)
- “Judge Sets Constitution Aside in School Finance Ruling” (Audio, Education Policy Center, 12 December 2011)
- “Victory for Lobato Plaintiffs” (Education News Colorado, 9 December 2011)
- “Lobato case primer” (Education News Colorado, 11 August 2011)
- “Lobato lawsuit unfounded” (Denver Post, 11 August 2011)
- “In Lobato, might high court issue a ruling it can’t enforce?” (Colorado News Agency, 11 August 2011)
- “Lobato education-funding budget-buster aided & abetted by Colorado Supreme Court” (8 August 2011)
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.
Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.