15 September 2008

Challenge To Colorado School Finance Considered

The Colorado Supreme Court has granted certiorari to consider the state constitutional adequacy of Colorado's system of K-12 education finance. Specifically:

Whether the court of appeals erred in holding that claims regarding educational quality and adequacy of school funding brought pursuant to article IX, section 2 of the Colorado Constitution (the Education Clause) present nonjusticiable political questions.

Whether the court of appeals erred in holding that the school districts do not have standing to bring suit under article IX, section 15, of the Colorado Constitution (the Local Control Clause) challenging the constitutionality of the Colorado system of public school finance.

The Plaintiffs include fourteen school districts, mostly rural ones with small property tax bases, and a large number of individuals on behalf of their children, presumably mostly from the districts involved in the suit.

The Colorado Supreme Court could have simply buried the question by refusing to grant certiorari when relief was denied by the Colorado Court of Appeals. But, it didn't. State supreme courts across the country have ruled for Plaintiffs in similar suits, Ohio among them, but have had difficulty making the remedies they have ordered stick.

A win at this stage of the litigation would simply allow a trial court to consider the issues on the merits, and would not actually resolve the issues presented. Given the judicial philosophies of the judge's on Colorado's Supreme Court and the framing of the issues it was willing to rule upon, it is likely that the Plaintiffs will prevail at this stage and be permitted to continue this litigation, at least to the point of having a court determine on the merits if they have stated a claim upon which relief can be granted apart from jurisdictional issues.

Rural districts in Colorado actually have the highest per capita state funding, but also have high costs and a low capacity to raise funds locally.

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