school funding

Colorado Supreme Court overturns Lobato school funding lawsuit (as predicted by Clear The Bench Colorado)

The Colorado Supreme Court overturned Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport and upheld the constitutionality of Colorado’s school funding system, as predicted by Clear The Bench Colorado Director Matt Arnold in an article published earlier this weekend:

Colorado Supreme Court to issue ruling on Lobato lawsuit (called the “SuperBowl of school funding litigation”) Tuesday

The Lobato lawsuit was originally filed in 2005; it was rejected at both the trial court level and in the Colorado Court of Appeals before narrowly (4-3) receiving new life in one of the Mullarkey Majority’s final (and most notorious) rulings in October 2009. The Mullarkey Majority overturned lower courts that had held (correctly) that school funding decisions are a matter of policy – not law – and are therefore the job of elected legislators – not appointed judges – to decide.

The 2009 Mullarkey Court ruling sent the case back to the trial court, and two years later (9 December 2011) Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport issued a 183-page ruling finding for the plaintiffs – which was almost immediately appealed by the state (a bipartisan decision by Governor Hickenlooper and Attorney General Suthers) and joined in the appeal by the State Board of Education).

Although “reading the tea leaves” and predicting an outcome is always fraught with danger, it was clear from oral arguments in March that the justices who had participated in the 2009 Lobato ruling had not since shifted their opinion on the merits of the case.

However, what has changed in the interim (due in no small part to the efforts of Clear The Bench Colorado) is the composition of the state’s highest court – as two of the “unjust justices” who had previously voted to keep the Lobato lawsuit alive (Justice Alex Martinez and former Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey) have since resigned from the court (the former, after having received the lowest “retain” vote percentage of any incumbent Colorado Supreme Court justice in the state’s history – at 59% - and the latter quitting in advance of the retention vote rather than face the voters, in the face of a popular judicial accountability movement). Mullarkey’s replacement, Justice Monica Marquez, recused herself (appropriately) from this case, having taken part in earlier decisions while representing the state as an assistant attorney general, leaving the balance of power in deciding the case to recently appointed Justice Brian Boatright. Note that both Justice Boatright and Justice Marquez are subject to a retention vote in 2014.

Clear The Bench Colorado’s previously published prediction on Tuesday’s pending ruling:

Given that the justices who voted on the previous appearance of the Lobato case before the Colorado Supreme Court are unlikely to change their positions, the weight of the decision falls firmly on the shoulders of recently appointed Justice Brian Boatright – who will be facing the voters in the 2014 retention elections. Given the weighty constitutional issues at stake, and the potentially “devastating consequences” for the state (as well as confidence in the state’s judicial system), it is our view that Justice Boatright will do the right thing and join the previous dissenting minority in forming a new majority to overturn Judge Sheila Rappaport’s blatantly biased and political ruling.

My bet: 4-2 to overturn, upholding the Constitution.

Read more about the Lobato school funding lawsuit here.

Colorado Supreme Court to issue ruling on Lobato lawsuit (called the “SuperBowl of school funding litigation”) Tuesday

The Colorado Supreme Court will issue a ruling in the resurrected ‘Lobato v. Colorado‘ school funding lawsuit (previously termed the Super Bowl of school funding litigation) this Tuesday, 28 May 2013 (the court heard oral arguments in the case in early March this year).

At issue: the constitutionality of Colorado’s system of statewide school funding.
At stake: some $4B additional school funding annually (requested by the plaintiffs), along with an additional $17B in spending on capital construction – and, perhaps even more importantly, a looming constitutional crisis regarding separation of powers and the proper role of the courts in setting taxation and educational policy.

Colorado Supreme Court Justices, from left, Nathan Coats, Gregory Hobbs, Michael Bender, Nancy Rice, Allison Eid and Brian Boatright hear school-funding arguments in the Lobato vs. Colorado case filed in 2005. Attorneys from both sides were subjected to pointed questioning from the bench. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)

The Lobato lawsuit was originally filed in 2005; it was rejected at both the trial court level and in the Colorado Court of Appeals before narrowly (4-3) receiving new life in one of the Mullarkey Majority’s final (and most notorious) rulings in October 2009. The Mullarkey Majority overturned lower courts that had held (correctly) that school funding decisions are a matter of policy – not law – and are therefore the job of elected legislators – not appointed judges – to decide.

The 2009 Mullarkey Court ruling sent the case back to the trial court, and two years later (9 December 2011) Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport issued a 183-page ruling finding for the plaintiffs – which was almost immediately appealed by the state (a bipartisan decision by Governor Hickenlooper and Attorney General Suthers) and joined in the appeal by the State Board of Education).

Although “reading the tea leaves” and predicting an outcome is always fraught with danger, it was clear from oral arguments in March that the justices who had participated in the 2009 Lobato ruling had not since shifted their opinion on the merits of the case.

However, what has changed in the interim (due in no small part to the efforts of Clear The Bench Colorado) is the composition of the state’s highest court – as two of the “unjust justices” who had previously voted to keep the Lobato lawsuit alive (Justice Alex Martinez and former Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey) have since resigned from the court (the former, after having received the lowest “retain” vote percentage of any incumbent Colorado Supreme Court justice in the state’s history – at 59% – and the latter quitting in advance of the retention vote rather than face the voters, in the face of a popular judicial accountability movement).  Mullarkey’s replacement, Justice Monica Marquez, recused herself (appropriately) from this case, having taken part in earlier decisions while representing the state as an assistant attorney general, leaving the balance of power in deciding the case to recently appointed Justice Brian Boatright.  Note that both Justice Boatright and Justice Marquez are subject to a retention vote in 2014.

 At Stake?

As previously mentioned, not only are billions of dollars in additional school funding (estimated by plaintiffs at $4B, annually) at stake – which alone could have “devastating consequences” for the state, according to Governor Hickenlooper – it could precipitate a constitutional crisis.  A court mandate to raise taxes or require more spending would intrude upon the legislature’s authority to set education policy and violate the constitutionally-defined separation of powers between the branches of state government (an issue raised in the dissenting opinion in the 2009 ruling, as Clear The Bench Colorado noted at the time:

The Colorado Constitution directs the General Assembly to “provide for the establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state,”placing discretionary education questions in Colorado squarely and solely within the legislative ambit. (Lobato v. State of Colorado, dissenting opinion. Emphasis added).

A court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs “could alter the relationship between the people of Colorado and their government for decades to come” – since

One of the plaintiffs’ main arguments is that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) must give way to the education clause so that taxes could be raised and revenues increased to meet the needs of the education clause without a vote of the people.

A ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court asserting primacy of the education clause over TABOR and imposing higher taxes or spending could - as noted by both the attorney general’s office and Governor Hickenlooper – 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.”

Listen to audio of Governor Hickenlooper’s statement on the Lobato appeal

Clear The Bench Colorado‘s prediction on Tuesday’s pending ruling:

Given that the justices who voted on the previous appearance of the Lobato case before the Colorado Supreme Court are unlikely to change their positions, the weight of the decision falls firmly on the shoulders of recently appointed Justice Brian Boatright – who will be facing the voters in the 2014 retention elections.  Given the weighty constitutional issues at stake, and the potentially “devastating consequences” for the state (as well as confidence in the state’s judicial system), it is our view that Justice Boatright will do the right thing and join the previous dissenting minority in forming a new majority to overturn Judge Sheila Rappaport’s blatantly biased and political ruling.

Our bet: 4-2 to overturn, upholding the Constitution. 

Bottom Line:

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 (i.e., 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 has been a fiscal, legal, and political disaster for almost a decade.

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

The Attorney General’s office has also compiled a 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.

Colorado Supreme Court hears arguments in Lobato appeal (the “SuperBowl of School Funding Litigation”)

The Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the resurrected ‘Lobato v. Colorado‘ school funding lawsuit (previously termed the Super Bowl of school funding litigation).
At issue: the constitutionality of Colorado’s system of statewide school funding.
At stake: some $3B additional school funding annually (requested by the plaintiffs), along with an additional $17B in spending on capital construction – and, perhaps even more importantly, a looming constitutional crisis regarding separation of powers and the proper role of the courts in setting taxation and educational policy.

Lobato case argued before the Colorado Supreme Court

(Denver Post, ”Colorado Supreme Court hears arguments in school funding lawsuit” 7 MAR 13)

The Lobato lawsuit was originally filed in 2005; it was rejected at both the trial court level and in the Colorado Court of Appeals before narrowly (4-3) receiving new life in one of the Mullarkey Majority’s final (and most notorious) rulings in October 2009. The Mullarkey Majority overturned lower courts that had held (correctly) that school funding decisions are a matter of policy – not law – and are therefore the job of elected legislators – not appointed judges – to decide.

The 2009 Mullarkey Court ruling sent the case back to the trial court, and two years later (9 December 2011) Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport issued a 183-page ruling finding for the plaintiffs – which was almost immediately appealed by the state (a bipartisan decision by Governor Hickenlooper and Attorney General Suthers) and joined in the appeal by the State Board of Education).

In oral arguments before the Colorado Supreme Court, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Fero challenged Rappaport’s finding that the phrase “thorough and uniform education” in Colorado’s Constitution means that “if any students aren’t making it the whole system is irrational” – stating

“Universal achievement cannot be what the constitution requires”

Plaintiffs argued that because some groups show disparate performance, the state’s educational system is not “thorough and uniform” – and allege that shortfalls in educational outcomes are due to the state’s K-12 educational system being underfunded by $3 billion.  As reported in the Alamosa News coverage of the trial (“Supreme Court to consider Lobato case“),

According to the Joint Budget Committee Appropriations Report 2010-11 and the Colorado Attorney General (AG), K-12 in Colorado receives 45.6 percent of the general fund or $3.2 billion of a $6.97 billion general fund.

A Colorado Supreme Court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would have “devastating consequences” for the state, according to Governor Hickenlooper.  As summarized by the Alamosa News article,

If the plaintiffs were to win, the state would either have to raise taxes by at least 50 percent or have to devote 89 percent of the general fund budget to K-12 funding to meet this obligation, crowding out things such as Medicaid, unemployment assistance, transportation, public safety and higher education

Assistant AG Fero also emphasized that a court mandate to raise taxes or require more spending would intrude upon the legislature’s authority to set policy and violate the constitutionally-defined separation of powers between branches of state government (an issue at the heart of the dissenting opinion in the 2009 ruling, as contemporaneously noted by Clear The Bench Colorado:

The Colorado Constitution directs the General Assembly to “provide for the establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state,” placing discretionary education questions in Colorado squarely and solely within the legislative ambit. (Lobato v. State of Colorado, dissenting opinion. Emphasis added).

A court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs “could alter the relationship between the people of Colorado and their government for decades to come” – since

One of the plaintiffs’ main arguments is that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) must give way to the education clause so that taxes could be raised and revenues increased to meet the needs of the education clause without a vote of the people.

A ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court asserting primacy of the education clause over TABOR and imposing higher taxes or spending could - as noted by both the attorney general’s office and Governor Hickenlooper – 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.”

Listen to audio of Governor Hickenlooper’s statement on the Lobato appeal

Bottom Line:

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 (appropriately) dismissed the case (Lobato v. Colorado) as non-justiciable (i.e., a policy issue not to be decided by the courts).

Interestingly, two of the ‘unjust justices’ constituting the majority opinion in October 2009 (Mullarkey and Martinez) are no longer on the state’s highest court, while the 3 opponents of the original ruling remain.  Of the two replacements, one (Marquez) has (appropriately) recused herself from the case, as she had taken part in earlier decisions while representing the state as an assistant attorney general, leaving the balance of power in deciding the case to recently appointed Justice Brian Boatright.  Note that both Justice Boatright and Justice Marquez are subject to a retention vote in 2014.

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 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.

Friday Funnies: …and a Leftist Judiciary! (reprise, again)

Welcome to the 2012 Christmas edition of the Clear The Bench Colorado Friday Funnies!

Another tumultuous year has come and gone for the Colorado judiciary – and once again, Colorado Citizens and taxpayers have been hammered by the gavels of Colorado judges pounding their personal preferences over the will of the people – and the rule of law.

Last year closed with Colorado courts deciding the boundaries for Congressional districts (after the state senate reprised the 2000 playbook of abdicating responsibility to send it to the courts) and state legislative districts (following the Colorado Reapportionment Commission’s public hearings on re-setting the boundaries of our state legislative districts over the summer), both of which played a prominent role in determining Colorado’s electoral destiny in 2012.

Colorado courts were also a central battlefield for Education policy, as one Denver District judge threw out Douglas County’s attempts to enable greater school choice, and another Denver District judge declared the state system of funding schools “unconscionable” while advancing the power of the courts to determine “proper” levels of school funding (despite the Constitution’s delegation of that power to the legislative branch) – although that decision is likely to be overturned after an expensive – and long - appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.

The first stages of the court appeal seeking to preserve school choice concluded last month (Nov 2012) with oral arguments before the Colorado Court of Appeals (a ruling by the 3-judge panel isn’t expected until early next year, most likely late January or February).

Meanwhile, the ‘Lobato’ school funding lawsuit – called the “Super Bowl of school funding litigation” – continues to slog its way through the courts as well.

Earlier in the year, after two years of legislative inaction failed to repeal or roll back the unconstitutional and unpopular tax increase, the ‘FASTER’ Colorado Car Tax was challenged in court as a violation of the Colorado state Constitution (specifically, Article X, Section 20 – Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, TABOR).

Another, wider-ranging challenge to TABOR is still being fought out in Federal court: the notorious “Fenster’s Folly” frivolous anti-TABOR lawsuit (which not only challenges TABOR in particular, but more generally citizens’ right to petition under a flawed reading of the “republican form of government” language in the Constitution’s “Guarantee Clause” (United States Constitution, Article IV, Section 4 – “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government“) which multiple U.S. Supreme Court cases have ruled non-justiciable (meaning, not subject to determination by the courts).

One major ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court DID uphold the law – and the rights of Colorado citizens – when striking down the University of Colorado’s illegal gun ban (March 2012).  Unfortunately,  the CU administration (backed by the CU Board of Regents) moved almost immediately to circumvent the court’s ruling and continue to violate state law by promulgating policies banning guns in certain areas (not authorized by statute) and additional gun ban legislation (unfortunately backed by many on the CU Board of Regents) to further restrict and roll back hard-fought self-defense rights is coming.

Finally, to close out the year, the Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals moved into the palatial new ‘Colorado Judicial Center’ (at significant taxpayer expense and incurring massive new “non-debt” debt, without required voter approval) just one week before closing for the holidays.

All of these issues were comprehensively documented by Clear The Bench Colorado over the last year – while the “mass media” and the majority of the state’s “news” organizations gave them short shrift.

Clear The Bench Colorado also continued the public service of providing comprehensive, well-referenced evaluations of judicial performance in 2012 – again, in contrast to the “official” taxpayer-funded “Blue Book” rubberstamp “reviews” disseminated at great expense (and, when put out at polling locations, in violation of state law) by the Colorado Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation.

Although remaining mindful that what’s at stake – holding our judiciary accountable for serial violations of our constitutional rights (to vote on taxes, even when taxes are called “fees”defend our property against unjust seizurebear arms in self-defense; and too many others to list) is serious business, all work and no play makes Matty a dull boy.

Although still awaiting payment over two year later after “Colorado Ethics Watch” (CEW, pronounced “sue” – it’s what they do) was once again ordered to pay Clear The Bench Colorado thousands of $ in legal fees (owed since the judge’s original ruling in July 2010 found CEW’s complaint to be “frivolous, groundless, & vexatious”) brings a rueful chuckle, the following video (even if focused on the national level) elicited a hearty laugh:

…and a Leftist Judiciary!

While still afflicted with the (black-robed) ghosts of Christmas past in our Christmas present, we can still act to save our Christmas future. Continue to support Clear The Bench Colorado with comments (Sound Off!) and contributions. Freedom isn’t free – nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

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:

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.”

Listen to audio remarks on the Lobato appeal

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.

State Education Board joins Governor Hickenlooper in bipartisan appeal of Denver judge’s ruling on Lobato school-funding lawsuit

Colorado’s State Board of Education voted 4-3 Tuesday morning to appeal Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport’s ruling against the state in the Lobato school funding lawsuit.  Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper had officially announced last 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.”

The state education board’s decision to appeal the Lobato ruling is significant because although the board’s vote to appeal Rappaport’s ruling was decided on a party-line basis (Education News Colorado)

(SBE’s four Republicans, Bob Schaffer, Marcia Neal, Paul Lundeen and Deb Scheffel, voted for appeal while Democrats Elaine Gantz Berman, Jane Goff and Angelika Schroader voted no)

the board joins Democrat Governor John Hickenlooper and Republican Attorney General John Suthers in a broad, bipartisan coalition of state elected officials seeking to overturn judicial usurpation of executive and legislative authority.

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.”

Listen to audio update on the Lobato appeal (playing this week on 560KLZ The Source)

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.

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.

“Adequate Funding” unrelated to available state funds? Colorado judge rules out relevant evidence

The Lobato v. Colorado school funding lawsuit concluded its fifth and final week in trial court in Denver last Friday – with plaintiffs seeking

billions of dollars of additional funding for schools, though it’s unclear where that extra money would come from. (Denver Post, “Colorado school funding trial enters likely final week“)

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).

Plaintiffs scored a major victory when Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport ruled to exclude evidence on the state’s budget and fiscal situation, as well as evidence on relevant constitutional provisions including the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) and the Gallagher Amendment (restricting property tax collections).

According to an article in last weekend’s Pueblo Chieftain (“State’s pocketbook won’t figure in schools suit“),

Kathy Gebhardt, a lawyer for plaintiffs in Lobato v. the state of Colorado, told the education collective Colorado School Finance Project on Friday that exclusion of evidence related to the state’s budget condition was a key victory for her side in five-week trial that concluded last week.

Gebhardt said her legal team filed the motion “thinking that we probably had a 5 or 10 percent chance of winning on that, and we won, which pretty much I think gutted a big part of the state’s defense.”

In lawsuits challenging the adequacy of school funding in other states, plaintiffs rarely have sought similar rulings.

Although Judge Rappaport “does not expect to rule on the case for at least another month” the preliminary rulings do not bode well for the state, which “cannot afford to lose.”

A court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could not only precipitate a constitutional crisis, but lead to a fiscal and budgetary train wreck of epic proportions.  Indeed, as Governor Hickenlooper correctly points out, the consequences for Colorado would be “devastating.

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 recent articles:

These cases 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.

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.

Last Week in Lobato Trial – will courts decree new school taxes?

The Lobato v. Colorado school funding lawsuit enters its fifth and (likely) final week in trial court in Denver this Monday – with plaintiffs seeking

billions of dollars of additional funding for schools, though it’s unclear where that extra money would come from. (Denver Post, “Colorado school funding trial enters likely final week“)

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).

Despite the lack of correlation between spending and performance – and despite the failure of court-imposed school funding increases in several states (including Colorado neighbors Kansas and Wyoming) to achieve increased school performance, despite revenue and spending increases -

In Colorado, where per-pupil spending was $8,782 in 2008-09, students often outperformed students in Wyoming, where funding – following a school finance lawsuit – was $14,268 per pupil.

plaintiffs continue to seek additional money that the state simply does not have.  A court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could not only precipitate a constitutional crisis, but lead to a fiscal and budgetary train wreck of epic proportions.  Indeed, as Governor Hickenlooper correctly points out, the consequences for Colorado would be “devastating.

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 recent articles:

These cases 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.

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.

Monday Media Review: School choice, school funding lawsuits highlight courts’ inappropriately rising role in education policy

Continuing coverage of the pair of lawsuits seeking to have the courts decide educational policy in Colorado (the Douglas County school choice case, and the Lobato statewide educational funding case) over the weekend highlights the increasing role of the courts (as opposed to elected school boards, or the state legislature in whom constitutional authority for making education policy & resourcing decisions is vested) in deciding how – and under what conditions –  our children receive an education.

Friday’s Denver Post published a guest commentary (“Lobato case is crucial to education“) that was nothing more than a special-interest plea for more money (that the state does not have) by the same people (a pair of school superintendants) who in one breath admit that “we find ourselves failing” but blame their failure solely on a “lack of resources” (never mind the successful accomplishments of other schools, particularly – but not only – charter and private schools less dependent on state funding).

The guest commentary fails utterly to substantiate a link between educational funding and performance, and fails to make the case for how “Colorado’s school funding system… is constitutionally inadequate” – since the Constitution leaves such questions of policy up to the state legislature, NOT the courts.

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).

The authors are correct in one regard:

In terms of the future of public education, Lobato is the most important case ever tried in Colorado.

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.

  • Douglas County school choice lawsuit:

Saturday’s Colorado Springs Gazette editorial (“Backward voucher ruling favors oppression“) was a scathing indictment of Denver District judge Michael Martinez’ ruling to stop the Douglas County school choice program via permanent injunction, calling it “a decision to segregate and oppress.”

The editorial correctly points out a fatal flaw in Judge Martinez’ ruling, which ignored governing constitutional precedent (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, No. 00-1751, decided 27 June 2002, U.S. Supreme Court) holding that voucher programs did NOT violate the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause:

In Colorado, education money attaches to children. With each child who enrolls, a public school gets more than $6,000 for the year.

Vouchers issue the money to parents. At that point, the money belongs to the parent and child. They are free to spend it at almost any accredited school, religious or otherwise.

The key point – that educational choice belongs to the parent, not to the government (especially, not to the courts) – bears repeating:

Once state money is converted to a voucher and given to a child, it’s no longer the government’s. It belongs to the child, who is subject to the will of a parent or guardian. Parents and guardians have the right to choose whether their children are schooled in secular or religious settings.

The Gazette’s editorial concludes by endorsing an appeal to a higher court: “Let’s hope this ignorant, backward ruling is soon overturned.”

Sunday’s Denver Post editorial (“The latest hurdle for school choice“) chimed in with (surprising!) support for the Douglas County school choice program in principle, but sounded a more cautionary note on the prospects for appellate success:

And while Douglas County officials have said they intend to appeal Denver District Judge Michael A. Martinez’s ruling, the language of his opinion – along with the current makeup of the Colorado Supreme Court – does not leave much room for optimism.

The Post’s editors have a point – they certainly are intimately familiar with the political predilections of the Colorado Supreme Court, as they are the court’s current landlords (a possible factor in the Post’s non-coverage of last year’s judicial retention elections) – but if the DougCo school board first takes their case to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which has largely been a bright spot for actually upholding the law in Colorado – they may have a decent shot at success, and will in any case build up a good record for where the case may ultimately be decided in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Finally, this morning’s (Monday) Parker Chronicle (online) reported on the first step of the appeal process (“Douglas County School District launches appeal process“):

The district announced it filed a stay of the permanent injunction filed against its choice scholarship pilot program, designed to deliver school vouchers to 500 district students. The program was stopped on Aug. 12 with the decision by Denver District Court Judge Michael Martinez, who ruled it unconstitutional in part because it routes public education money to private, religious schools,
In a news release issued Aug. 19, the district calls its motion “the first legal step in a planned appeal” of Martinez’s ruling.

Clearly, the fight for choice – and control – of education in  Colorado’s courts is just beginning.

These cases 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.

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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