Last week’s Colorado Supreme Court decision to uphold the current school financing system was a good call in my opinion.
The “Lobato case” as it had been labeled started in 2005 with plaintiff eight-grade student Taylor Lobato from the Town of Center in the San Luis Valley being among a group claiming that Colorado’s public school finance act was unconstitutional.
They claimed that the state’s system for funding schools failed to provide equality in funding between rich and poor school districts. The state Constitution mandates a fair and equitable distribution of state funds among all Colorado school districts.
While it is fair to say that the current state law has its numerous flaws and deficiencies, the “Lobato lawsuit” was a meat clever approach to rectifying inequities. One consultant who was familiar with the lawsuit estimated that it could have cost the State of Colorado (the taxpayers) an additional $4.0 Billion annually if the plaintiffs had succeeded in the legal attack.
The state, and in turn its taxpayers, would have a huge uphill climb to produce that kind of tax revenue to be in compliance with any court order along this line. At the same time, it is noted that the estimated cost was only one person’s opinion. In the meantime, the Colorado Legislature produced legislation that would address some of the concerns with the current funding act if approved by voters this coming November.
Sen. Mike Johnston of Denver was the master mind of the bill, which rewrites the State School Finance Act.
It includes an emphasis on added funding for poorer school districts which have a heavier concentration to teach English as a second language as well as addressing the needs of at-risk students.
Also, if approved, the bill would fund full-day kindergarten across the state along with a half day of preschool. State and local funding shares for each of the 178 school districts would be recalculated by adjusting for differences in median income and at-risk students with the goal of determining each district’s financial ability to pay. Then the state would backfill the gap with state dollars.
However, and it is a BIG “however,” the whole revised funding act is predicated on voter approval of increased school funding to the tune of $1 Billion annually. The amount and type of taxing to achieve this amount is still “up for grabs.” There are options in the bill which will have to be sorted out and then incorporated into ballot language for this coming November’s election.
It will be a tall order for any group or coalition to convince Colorado voters that this is a worthwhile approach.
While I support the need for additional funding for public schools, I hesitate to “sign on” for a $1 billion increase in funding without more details.
Plus, with the Colorado Supreme Court’s Lobato decision, it makes it less compelling, at least from a legal standpoint, to open our checkbooks. I am eager to learn more about what the taxing package will look like, how much funding each school district would receive and how the additional funds would be used.
We all need to learn more about this proposition before weighing in.
Bill Christopher is former city manager of Westminster and used to represent District J on the RTD board of directors.