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:
- “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.”
Of course, that wouldn’t be the first time…