Education advocates rally for action

Coalition wants state to do more, dubs 2013 ‘Year of the Student’

DENVER – Despite a court ruling that found Colorado funds its schools at such a low level that it’s unconstitutional, education advocates were disappointed in the Legislature’s 2012 session.

They got together Wednesday to press for a better result next year.

A coalition of 55 groups announced the formation of the 2013: Year of the Student Project, with a website at www.2013forstudents.org.

“We’ll be calling on next year’s Legislature to do more than cut less or apply a Band-Aid,” said Hayley Stromberg, a freshman at ThunderRidge High School who founded the Douglas County Kid Campaign.

The groups want funding for schools and colleges that matches mandates the Legislature already has imposed on them. This year, the state cut the college budget and kept per-student funding for K-12 schools at the same level as the year before.

Last fall, a Denver judge ruled that the state’s K-12 funding system is unconstitutional because it bears no rational relationship to the expectations the Legislature has imposed on schools.

But the Legislature passed another school budget this year that is based on the same funding formula the judge threw out in the Lobato vs. Colorado case. Gov. John Hickenlooper and other state leaders are appealing the ruling, which ultimately could cost $4 billion.

K-12 schools and colleges together make up about half of the state’s $7.7 billion general fund.

Lisa Weil of Great Education Colorado, who helped organize Wednesday’s rally at the Capitol, noticed the legislators hardly uttered the name “Lobato” during the 2012 session.

“It was disappointing that after a 186-page decision that laid out an education system that the judge said was not just unconstitutional but unconscionable, that there wasn’t a sense of urgency to do something about it,” Weil said.

She’s hoping that a show of force for the 2013 Legislature will give lawmakers the confidence to act, regardless of the Lobato appeal.

The state has until next month to file its brief before the Colorado Supreme Court. Oral arguments could be scheduled this fall, and it’s possible that a final ruling could come down early next year, while the Legislature is in session.

The chairwoman of the Joint Budget Committee said the Lobato case, and education funding in general, was indeed on legislators’ minds.

“There’s no point in talking about it until it’s through the process. But it weighs heavily on my mind because of the potential impact it has on the state,” said Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen.

Gerou said the biggest crisis is in Colorado’s funding for its colleges, which is well below the national norm. For K-12 schools, the Legislature has passed several reforms for teacher performance and standardized tests that need to be funded and that could make schools more efficient in the long-term, she said.

“Rather than just asking for more money, I’d like to have more of an in-depth conversation about this so we can talk about what the goals are,” Gerou said.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

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