Gov. John Hickenlooper announced Wednesday that the state will appeal a district judge’s ruling in the Lobato v. State school funding lawsuit.

Lobato v. State illustrationBut the State Board of Education, after an hour-long closed session over the phone, adjourned without taking a vote on an appeal and will meet again Dec. 27.

In a prepared statement, the governor said, “A final resolution of the constitutional and legal issues involved in the case require an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.

“The judge’s decision provided little practical guidance on how the state should fund a ‘thorough and uniform’ system of public education. Moreover, while the judge focused on the inadequacy of state funding, she did not reconcile this issue with other very relevant provisions of the Constitution, including the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23.

“There are more appropriate venues for a vigorous and informed public debate about the state’s spending priorities. We look forward to a swift decision in this case so the people of Colorado and their elected representatives can participate in the school funding conversation.”

The state board met for about an hour in a closed session also attended by education Commissioner Robert Hammond, board aide Carey Markel and Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Fero. Markel worked on the case for the AG’s office before recently taking her staff position with the board. (Markel does not provide legal advice to the board in her new role.) The third member of the state’s trial team, Nick Heinke, also has left the attorney general’s office.

The board returned to public session just long enough for chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, to announce another meeting on Dec. 27 and for members to vote to adjourn.

Some observers had predicted a 4-3 split on the board in favor of an appeal. However, the seven-member group (four Republicans and three Democrats) does have a past pattern of seeking unanimity on major issues.

An appeal may keep the case in the courts for perhaps a year, according to some observers. Appeal also could take the legislature off the hook in 2012 for responding to the district court’s ruling that the state’s school funding system doesn’t meet constitutional requirements and that the state needs to devise a new system.

The named defendants in the case are the state, Hickenlooper, the state board and education Hammond, an employee of the board.

Estimates put full compliance with the Lobato ruling at $2 to $4 billion a year more than the $5.2 billion a year the state and districts currently spend on basic school operations.

Reaction roundup

Kathleen Gebhardt, lead attorney for the plaintiffs:

“We are disappointed by the governor’s announcement today that the district judge’s ruling will be appealed. We call on the legislature to act during the upcoming session as kids are continuing to go to school in failing facilities, with outdated textbooks, and in overcrowded classrooms.

“Our children have been in these conditions for decades and should the legislature not act, these conditions will continue to exist. Justice delayed is education denied. We continue to invite the state to a robust discussion on how we solve this funding emergency, which will not change as long as the current funding system is in place. Significantly absent from Governor Hickenlooper’s comments is any defense of the current system.”

Lisa Weil, Great Education Colorado:

“We are disappointed that the state has decided to appeal the Lobato decision before seeking and receiving more input from the people of Colorado. Nonetheless, with today’s decision by the State Board of Education to delay action on the appeal, we are hopeful that our leaders will reconsider this decision to spend even more taxpayer dollars defending an indefensible school financing system.

“We encourage every state elected official – every legislator, every State Board of Education member – to read the entire Lobato opinion and to make their own decision about whether the state is meeting its constitutional duty to maintain a ‘thorough and uniform system of free public schools.'” (The group is collecting signatures on a petition to state officials urging no appeal.)

Beverly Ingle, president Colorado Education Association:

The head of the 40,000-member teachers union said she regrets that Gov. Hickenlooper is seeking a final decision from the Colorado Supreme Court, but like the governor, is hoping for a swift decision.

“We want quick resolution because Colorado students need the state to focus on overhauling the K-12 funding system and finding the solutions that will increase our investment in their education.”

Education News Colorado Lobato archive