In a ruling handed down Friday, Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport determined that the state of Colorado was in violation of its own constitution and not adequately funding education. After dismissing crucial evidence that clearly shows increased funding does not equal increased outcomes, Rappaport issued a ruling that muddies the separation of powers and could have far reaching impacts.
Colorado’s constitution states: “The general assembly shall, as soon as practicable, provide for the establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state…”
It is the phrase of a “thorough and uniform system” that Lobato v. Colorado hinged on and Rappaport ruled that the state was in violation of its own constitution for failing adequately fund schools.
“The court does find that public education is very significantly underfunded and that any legislative response of necessity must address the level of funding necessary to meet the mandate of the Education Clause and the standards- based system and should provide funding consistent with that standard,” Rappaport said in her ruling.
She said that she would “provide the state with a reasonable time to create and implement a system of public school finance.”
The ruling is certain to be appealed however this does not change how troublesome the judgment is.
In September Rappaport threw out any evidence related to Colorado’s fiscal situation, information that common sense dictates is germane to any discussion of education funding. Further, in the ruling Friday, the judge dismissed crucial testimony.
Dr. Eric Hanushek of Stanford University had testified to the fact that increased per pupil funding does not correlate to a better education. He also pointed out that while funding has increased over the past decades, we have not seen an increase in performance from schools.
Rappaport’s ruling was hostile toward Hanushek’s testimony and dismissed it out of turn. She said that his expert opinion “defies logic” and she “found him to lack credibility.”
This was written despite the fact that the numbers back up his testimony. As we wrote back in October when discussing the now failed Proposition 103, statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) clearly show Hanushek was spot on.
Over the last 30 years per pupil funding in Colorado has increased by 48% (adjusted for inflation) and yet by all measures we have not seen education outcomes improve. More money does not equal a better education. Period.
It makes little sense to throw more money at education when it does little good. The education system itself is broken – not the funding that feeds it.
The ruling itself and the potential precedent it sets is the biggest news out of this.
Are we to now face court mandated tax increases? Are courts now to have a say in Colorado’s budgetary process? Is the will of the people of Colorado who voted down massive tax increases like Proposition 103 to be ignored?
Judicial activism is nothing new, particularly in a state like Colorado where benches are packed with liberal judges who fail to understand the limits on their power. We may however be entering a new era where the separation of powers is ignored like never before and judges set fiscal policy and control state spending.
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