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The Churn: MALDEF weighs in

Updated 1:15 p.m. – Lawyers for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund pitched their case to reporters Friday morning, just days ahead of Monday’s opening of trial in the Lobato v. State school finance lawsuit.

The event came less than 24 hours after Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General John Suthers called a snap news conference to explain why they think a plaintiffs’ victory would be costly for the state.

The main group of plaintiffs will round up pretrial events with a news conference at 11 a.m. Sunday on the Capitol’s west steps.

David Hinojosa, MALDEF southwest regional counsel, said “There is a crisis in the public schools of Colorado” because of increasing demands for improvement while funding lags.

Funding inequities are particularly harmful for poor and minority students and for English language learners, Hinojosa said. The MALDEF lawyers are representing eight families from four low-income districts, Greeley, Mapleton, Rocky Ford and Sheridan. MALDEF entered the case in 2010, five years after the original Lobato suit was filed by the non-profit Children’s Voices on behalf of a larger group of parents and several school districts.

Also Friday, Suthers and Kathleen Gebhardt, head of Children’s Voices, spoke to a Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce Group about the case.

What’s churning:

Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General John Suthers Thursday took the public relations initiative on the Lobato school-finance lawsuit.

Losing the suit could wreck the state budget, and school funding decisions are the responsibility of the legislature and the voters, they told reporters during a hastily called Capitol briefing.

“If we lost this decision the consequences would be devastating,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s up to the people and the legislature to decide what to do about school funding,” not the courts, Suthers said.

Supporters of the suit late Wednesday announced an 11 a.m. Sunday news conference on the Capitol’s west steps. The five-week trial opens Monday before Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport. Plaintiffs in the case, a group of parents and school districts, are asking she find that the state’s current school finance system violates the state constitution and order the state to devise a new system.

Hickenlooper and Suthers claimed that victory for the plaintiffs could cost the state $2 to $4 billion more than it currently spends each year on schools, decimating revenues available for other state programs.

Speaking of school finance, proponents of a proposed ballot measure to raise taxes for schools announced Thursday they believe they have gathered sufficient signatures to put the measure on the November statewide ballot.

“Supporters will submit substantially more than 86,105 signatures on Monday,” according to a news release from Support Our Schools for a Bright Colorado. Monday is the deadline to submit signed petitions to the secretary of state, and 86,105 is the number of legally valid signatures required.

If approved by voters, the measure would increase state income and sales taxes slightly for five years, with the additional revenue earmarked for schools and state colleges. (See this EdNews story for background.)

The campaign will hold a news conference at 1 p.m. Monday in Civic Center before delivering petitions to the secretary of state.

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