Lobbying Groups Want Taxpayers to Underwrite Their School Funding Lawsuit Against the State of Colorado

About four months ago the Colorado Supreme Court decided that judges have a role in deciding how the state’s public schools are funded. In a Colorado Daily column I explained why this decision in the Lobato case was bad policy and a dangerous precedent.

You also can listen to Professor Joshua Dunn bring his expertise to bear for an 8-minute iVoices podcast we recorded last October — click the play button or follow this link:

One of the big takeaways from Dunn’s conversation is that most states realize the bad policy and bad consequences of adequacy lawsuits and are moving away from them. Colorado is out of sync for its courts to be sanctioning such action.

So why am I bringing up the Lobato case today? It seems that the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) and Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE) are actively urging local school boards to agree to help pay for the lawsuit against the state. That way, you the taxpayer can help fund both the plaintiffs and the defense … Seriously?

The goal of these lobbyist groups is to get each school district to help fund the cause in the amount of $1 per pupil in that district. For Jefferson County, which is considering adopting a resolution to help fund the lawsuit at this Thursday’s board meeting, that would be $86,250 in taxpayer dollars for legal fees. Adams 12 (Northglenn-Thornton) and Colorado Springs 11 are two other districts I am aware of that are considering this proposal.

The issue was brought to my attention when Colorado Springs TV reporter Andy Koen contacted me this morning. He included a comment of mine in his report on this evening’s District 11 board meeting:

Ben DeGrow of the conservative advocacy group the Independence Institute suggested that board members may be wasting taxpayers money if they support the suit which he calls “symbollic.” [sic]

“Even if they get the best case scenario out of this, it’s going to be years before they see any money,” DeGrow said.

(By “symbolic” I was primarily referring to the action the Board would be deciding to take.) Yes, and it’s quite a gamble besides. In addition to the serious problem of judges interfering in school funding policy, there’s the issue of what really comprises an “adequate” funding amount for education. Based on the “professional judgment” of what would make a school administrator’s life easier? Based on some imaginary formula of what it would take to reach some level of student achievement, even if that formula just doesn’t add up?

Then there’s the fact that between 1989 and 2007, Colorado per-pupil spending on public education grew by 25 percent greater than inflation (just not as fast as the national average). And that, according to the Colorado Department of Education, Colorado K-12 public schools took in [MS Excel file] and spent [MS Excel file] more than $12,000 per student in 2007-08.

There are serious systemic problems with how our schools are funded and how they spend money. Until state and local policy makers have exhausted themselves proving how serious they are about resolving these issues, a taxpayer-funded adequacy lawsuit against the state is an idea that should be laughed out of the public square.

And while you’re at it, please don’t forget to send your thanks to the Colorado Supreme Court for making this a live issue to begin with.


  1. Regan says

    Good info Ben, thanks! Serious systemic problems, very correct, lets not add to it.


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