Should we send billions more in tax dollars to public education? A question that the voting electorate of Colorado answered definitively only six weeks ago got a distinctly different response from a Denver judge on Friday afternoon. In a bombshell ruling released late on Friday in the landmark Lobato school funding case, Denver Judge Sheila Rappaport decided that she knows better than Colorado voters, declaring that the current education funding system is insufficient and does not abide by the mandate in the Colorado Constitution that the public education system be "thorough and uniform."
In November, nearly a million Colorado voters weighed in on Proposition 103, which asked voters to raise taxes by $3 billion over five years to fund public education. That ballot measure went down nearly 2:1, with voters sending a clear signal that they thought the state had enough of their money already.
It wasn't even much of a debate, with all but the three most liberal counties in Colorado overwhelmingly rejecting the entreaty for more money for education. In tough times, voters made clear they don't think public schools get a free pass.
Local school funding measures also went down in nearly every district. Voters were clear. They did not stutter. There is no more money for education at this time.
Judge Rappaport sees things a little differently.
In her 183-page ruling in Lobato, which reads more like a political campaign document than a court ruling, Judge Rappaport attacks the state's witnesses in the case and makes what amounts to a public policy argument about school funding. Her ruling, though it does not automatically require immediate spending increases, sets up the future possibility of a court-ordered spending increase.
Both sides acknowledged an appeal is all but certain.
Were the case to be upheld, Colorado could see its funding of everything but public education dry up, virtually overnight.
One consultant for the plaintiffs has suggested Colorado is "underfunding" education by as much as $4 billion a year. Colorado currently spends over 40% of the General Fund on education, approximately $3.2 billion.
Were Colorado to fund education at the level suggested by the plaintiffs in Lobato, the state's allocation for roads, prisons and other non-education priorities would evaporate.
This case represents yet another example of the left using the courts to get what they could not obtain through other means. From the TABOR lawsuit led by state Rep. Andy Kerr (D-Lakewood) to Congressional redistricting, liberals preferred method for public policy this year seems to be court orders, not Colorado voters.
At this rate, why even bother having elections anymore?