October
20th 2008
Could Unelected Judges End Up Writing Colorado’s School Finance Laws?

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & School Finance & State Board of Education

According to the Alamosa Valley Courier, the Colorado Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could redefine how (and how much) schools are funded:

A lawsuit initiated by Anthony Lobato and family of Center along with 14 San Luis Valley school districts and other districts statewide will go before the state Supreme Court sometime early next year, according to attorney Kathleen Gebhardt.

Lobato vs. the State Board of education [sic] went before the Court of Appeals in Denver for oral argument Jan. 7 of this year. The Appeals Court quickly returned a decision stating that the State had no jurisdiction in the matter, so the case could not be referred for trial to the appropriate court.

I haven’t had the chance yet to take the course in civics that teaches the different jobs of different branches of government. But I’m told that the legislature is elected to make laws, and the judges are appointed to interpret them. The history of these kinds of school finance lawsuits in other states should teach us this is the wrong path to go down.

But then comes a statement in the Courier article that needs plenty of clarification:

The current Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) law further limits the amount of funds schools receive. TABOR requires that schools set aside a certain reserve in their budgets as a hedge against government growth, requiring that any excess funds in given years be returned to taxpayers.

“This has really ratcheted down the government’s ability to provide funds for schools,” Center Schools Superintendent George Welsh commented. While he feels the law was intended to be beneficial, legislators failed to foresee the negative effects it could have on school funding, he said.

First of all, it’s the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, not the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. And it wasn’t passed by the legislature. It was a constitutional amendment approved by Colorado voters in 1992.

But anyway, what are the supposed negative effects? In 1992-93, when TABOR passed, Colorado spent $5,785 per K-12 student. In 2005-06 (most recent data), Colorado spent $9,897 per K-12 student. After you take away inflation, that’s an increase of 16.7 percent per student. Maybe some school leaders were hoping for a 26.7 percent increase per pupil – in that sense, TABOR would be seen as having “negative effects”. But there’s no doubt that Colorado schools have continued to be funded at reasonable rates.

Whatever the school finance amount should be, let’s leave it up to the people and their elected representatives – not unelected judges.

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