Mar 1, 2010 9:37 PM by Andy Koen

Suing for school funding

Lawmakers will finalize hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to local schools this week. But at a time when everyone is cutting back, there's an effort underway to sue the state into spending more on education.

The Lobato lawsuit, filed on behalf of a family from the San Luis Valley, aims to force the legislature into spending a billion dollars a year more on education.

The plantiffs are being represented in court pro-bono by the Denver lawfirm Childrens Voices.

The Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Association of School Executives sent a joint letter in January to local school districts urging them to commit money to the suit to help pay for legal costs.

Last week, the District 11 school board met in a special session to give their support and $50,000 to the cause.

"We really don't see it an expenditure as much as an investment," explained board president Tom Strand.

The schools already takes the biggest share of the state budget, roughly 43 percent. State Senator Abel Tapia, who sits on the joint budget committee, says they don't have the money to pay if the state loses.

"We really don't have a plan of attack in order to finance that if it happens because the amount is so incredibly high that even this year, we're lucky to fund what we're going to fund," Tapia said.

UCCS Political Science professor Joshua Dunn has written extensively on education funding lawsuits.  He says they generally don't work.

"If the plantiffs win and if they actually do manage to extract more resources out of the state legislature, and those are big if's, it's very doubtful that the money will lead to substantial changes in the quality of education," Dunn said.

Strand and the rest of the D-11 board will consider some $11-16 million in cuts to the 2010-2011 budget as a result of cuts in state funding. He doesn't believe the district is wasting money by supporting the suit.

"I think it's our best effort or our best opportunity in the next 4 to 5, 10 years even, that we have to fix the problem, so I don't see it as wasting tax payer's money to do this."

A CASB spokersperson said last week that they have raised about $90,000 for the lawsuit thus far from local districts.

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