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Lobato Case Round 2 Starts Today: Of Adequacy, Taxes, Graphs and Rational Bases

August is here, can you believe it? For a few students, it means school is starting. But the big news is the first of two major education-related court case hearings gets underway today. Reporter Carol McGraw lays the groundwork of the six-year-old Lobato v State school funding lawsuit with a substantial article in the Sunday edition of the Colorado Springs Gazette:

“Where would the $3 billion come from?” asks Ben DeGrow, senior education policy analyst for Boulder-based [sic] Independence Institute.

He said the court has no business ordering the legislature what to do. “What makes a judge in a courtroom more qualified? This is throwing the state Constitution out the window.“

Under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, state and local governments cannot raise tax rates without voter approval and cannot spend revenues collected under existing tax rates if revenues grow faster than the rate of inflation and population growth.

“They should leave it up to the voters if they want a tax increase to pay for education.”

Other than the fact the Independence Institute has never been located in Boulder (and some might be shocked and/or amused to read that), the article captured well some of the main points made by my Education Policy Center friend. To give plaintiffs what they want, a judge would have to decree a tax increase and/or force the legislature to deprive funds from other services to cover K-12 — which already takes up more than 40 percent of the state’s general fund.

Other vital points were made by Geoff Blue from the Attorney General’s office. Further critique can be found by going into the podcast vaults to listen to this October 2009 interview with Professor Joshua Dunn. An important point about both their arguments boils down to this: The plaintiffs have a high legal bar to cross to win their case, proving there is no “rational basis” for the state’s current school funding system. As Ed News Colorado reports, both sides are busy pumping up the PR:

The Children’s Voices event on Sunday featured a “human graph” of schoolchildren standing up and down the Capitol steps to illustrate school funding trends, using a long black ribbon to represent national per pupil spending over a several years and a red ribbon going down the steps to represent Colorado stats.

The misleading graph is hardly a new phenomenon. Most recently, Ben debunked it in his Citizens’ Budget piece:

Within nearly two decades Colorado’s total spending grew by 31 percent in real dollars per student, a substantial increase but smaller than the national increase of more than 45 percent.

Some interest and advocacy groups frequently seize on this disparity to make comparisons showing Colorado lagging national spending
averages. A commonly-used misleading chart displays the red line of Colorado’s per-pupil spending going down—an effect that only works by making the fast-rising national spending average into a flat line….

This time it’s the kids who got flat-lined. (Not to mention the taxpayers, who have been dragged into funding both sides of this lawsuit.) Talk about the need for a rational basis and a low bar for logic. Oh well. It will take five weeks of courtroom hearings to settle Part 1 of Round 2 of the Lobato case. Maybe sometime before I grow up and graduate from college, the Colorado Supreme Court eventually will weigh in again. By then, hopefully our state’s K-12 finance system will have been greatly improved so that money truly follows student need to the school of choice rather than asking bureaucrats if the funding that funnels through their hands is “adequate.”

I think there’s an education for big people, as well as kids, lying somewhere in all of this legal back-and-forth. Same for the important case that starts tomorrow….