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A Year without Lobato Means Another School Finance Case Looms in Colorado

Life here in Colorado just isn’t the same without a pending school finance lawsuit. For about eight years, the Lobato case lingered in the background — sometimes drearily, sometimes dramatically — as students and teachers, principals and parents, school boards and state lawmakers went about the work associated with their various roles in the K-12 education world.

It was almost exactly one year ago today that the Colorado Supreme Court issued its final Lobato ruling, and I began clinging to a ray of hope for true school finance reform.

What we got instead was the Amendment 66 tax hike, soundly defeated by Colorado voters. In the election’s aftermath, the state legislature came back with the so-called Student Success Act — which gave us a couple small advances but left some real opportunities for student-focused funding off the table.

Then today we read in the Boulder Daily Camera:

The Boulder Valley school board recently unanimously agreed to make the district a plaintiff in a legal challenge to the state Legislature’s interpretation of Amendment 23.

Boulder lawyer Kathy Gebhardt, the executive director of non-profit law firm Children’s Voices, is taking the lead on the challenge, which she said will be filed in Denver District Court in early summer.

Now that our year without Lobato is over, it looks like we will need to get ready for another school finance court case name soon. Reports suggest this challenge will be targeted at a 2009 legislative move that many say violates not only the spirit but the letter of the state constitution’s Amendment 23. Faced with tough recessionary budget pressures, then-Gov. Bill Ritter backed the move to create a special budgetary factor reducing school district funding across the board.

It put then-Treasurer Cary Kennedy, the architect of Amendment 23, into a difficult political bind. As the legislature applied the novel procedure and then repeated it a couple times, a lot of blinking ensued. But no legal action… until now.

What’s remarkable is that despite both the unrealized increases and the genuine cuts, Colorado’s rank in per-pupil funding has increased to 21st, according to the National Education Association.

Speaking of which, I wonder where the teachers union will come down on this latest lawsuit — if indeed it’s filed this summer. Why wait nearly five years to take action, and start a legal process that could take a few more years before it’s resolved? Why now? Hopefully, it’s more than a sentimental Lobato feeling.

I’m too little to have the answers to such questions. But you had better be sure that I will be keeping an eye on developments as they unfold. Even though school is out now and the temptation grows stronger to spend all day playing outside, swimming and riding bikes, that’s what I’ll do.