When Gov. John Hickenlooper announced that the state will appeal a Denver court’s ruling that the state inadequately funds education, he acknowledged what Judge Sheila Rappaport—and previously the Colorado Supreme Court—would not: money is a finite resource, even when it’s spent on worthy causes and when it’s spent by government.
The state legislature allocates $4.3 billion to educate more than 800,000 students—just under $6,500 each—in K–12 public schools. According to the Colorado Department of Education, other sources bring that total to a statewide average of nearly $13,000, as of 2009-10.
Over two years ago, the supreme court ruled, in a contentious 4–3 decision, that a lower court should entertain claims brought by a group of parents and school districts that the state constitution’s call for a “thorough and uniform” system of free public schools should be interpreted to require a specific funding amount.
That lawsuit, Lobato vs. Colorado, reverted back to Rappaport’s courtroom, albeit with instructions that “the trial court must give substantial deference to the legislature’s fiscal and policy judgments.”
Rappaport’s decision, however, offered no such deference. Her ruling reads like a brief for the plaintiffs—not like a judgment that gives even a modicum of respect to the legislature’s constitutional authority to fund public schools or, more broadly, to adopt a state budget.
She condescendingly dismissed the state’s arguments, while fawning over various creative claims and tendentious documents provided by the Lobato plaintiffs, leading to these incredible conclusions: