The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a workaround of the state’s requirement to fund schools at a certain level was constitutional. It was a blow to many advocates who have repeatedly asked state lawmakers to restore the some $1 billion shortfall.
Here’s a look at how Colorado superintendents, education advocates and lawmakers are reacting to the decision:
Bruce Messinger, superintendent Boulder Valley Schools and plaintiff in the case:
Boulder Valley School District is disappointed in today’s narrowest of rulings in the Dwyer case. While we concur with the high court’s minority opinion, Colorado’s 178 school districts have been sent a clear message. The state legislature and the governor’s office are, for now, the primary political decision makers to ensure compliance with the letter and spirit of Amendment 23. Boulder Valley School District, joined by school districts of all sizes and demographics, will work as hard as possible in the next legislative session to ensure that Colorado does not retreat on our commitment to public education. Funding for Colorado public education is inadequate and we need to do more as a state to meet the needs of students.
John McCleary, superintendent Holyoke School District and plaintiff in the case:
The response from Holyoke School District is a feeling that even when the Supreme Court is wrong, they’re right. Our reactions don’t mean much. The courts addressed the issue with what we would consider a myopic view and failed to look at the bigger picture of equity.
As more and more districts slip towards base funding only, more and more services and support for students will have to be cut just to keep doors open. While the lawyers, legislators, justices, and advocates on both sides of this issue have received and enjoyed the benefits of a free and appropriate public education, the kids who are in the system now and who are in the system in the future will face a public education system that is neither fair nor equitable.
No matter the ruling, Colorado has a terrible, even miserable record of funding public schools. Our students will continue to suffer from poor funding, despite what the courts think. Parents and businesses in local communities will need to work harder than ever to show the Colorado Legislature what type of schools we want to have and hold their feet to the fire for supporting all students in our state.
Jan Tanner, School District 11 board director and plaintiff in the case:
We are disappointed in the Supreme Court ruling in the Dwyer/Amendment 23 case. We were hopeful that the Supreme Court would correct the State’s interpretation of the Amendment 23 negative factor funding reduction that is inconsistent with the intentions of voters when they approved Amendment 23. However, we will continue to do the best we can with the limited resources available in order to ensure success for all students.
Harry Bull, superintendent Cherry Creek School District:
We are disappointed with the decision, but we respect the court’s ruling. However, this year alone, the Cherry Creek School District is down by nearly $52 million in funding.
Funding for public schools has declined while our at-risk population has significantly increased. We have more and more complexity in our student population than we have funding to support. Those needs won’t go away in the future.
Colorado cannot continue to remain among the lowest of states in funding for public education and expect to prepare students to be competitive in the global workplace. Going forward the district will continue to advocate for changes in the school finance system to ensure that all of our students have the resources they need to be prepared to be successful.
Lisa Weil, executive director Great Education Colorado
Today’s disappointing decision is, unfortunately, just another in a long line of setbacks for the children of Colorado. Despite the voters best efforts to take students off the tracks of Colorado’s inevitable fiscal train wreck by passing Amendment 23, the state Supreme Court has put them right back in harm’s way. As the legislature continues to cut $1000 per student every year, today’s decision slams shut the courthouse door. It appears that the only remedy – the only way to make sure that every child has access to the educational opportunities that will lead them to success — may be to go back to the voters to renew our promise to the children of Colorado.
It is within our power as Coloradans to make all the investments necessary to ensure the continuing vitality of our families, communities and state economy. That power rests in tools available both to our legislature and the voters. There are already efforts to take such action in 2016; today’s ruling only increases the urgency of those efforts.
Chris Watney, president and CEO of the Colorado Children’s Campaign:
Today, the Colorado Supreme Court determined the Colorado Legislature’s use of the “negative factor” in determining how much money to send to schools each year is constitutional. The ruling in Dwyer v. State of Colorado shines a new spotlight on Colorado’s escalating financial challenges and the need for state and local leaders to work together on a solution.
The interaction of several pieces of our state constitution—some limiting state revenue collections and others mandating spending increases—has resulted in a predicament no one intended. We need a state budget that has the flexibility to ensure every chance for every child in Colorado. Today’s Supreme Court decision is another sign that we are nowhere close to that goal.
As the unintended consequences of our state’s constitutional constraints reveal themselves, the Children’s Campaign urges legislators and other state leaders to seek solutions that will not only preserve funding for K-12 education, but provide sustainable solutions for other public systems that help children grow and learn. Among these services are early childhood education, child care assistance and programs that ensure children have access to health insurance.
Mark Ferrandino, chief financial officer, Denver Public Schools:
Historically, Denver Public Schools has been considered to be a very low-funded school system when compared to similar districts across the country. During 2009-10, we had a per pupil revenue of $7,672. Despite inflation and the rise in key costs since then, that number is down to $7,355 in 2014-15. We are getting less money per child this year than we were back then. Essentially, DPS has had more than $431 million in total program funding withheld due to the negative factor during that time period.
Today’s ruling shows how important it is for the legislature and the people of Colorado to resolve the funding issues in K-12 education that are a result of both the great recession and the inability to recover due to the fiscal restraints in the Colorado Constitution.
School districts across the state will continue to push for the legislature to prioritize K-12 funding, and will seek a solution so that the state can do more to invest in our kids and in schools
Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union:
Today’s Supreme Court decision is extremely disappointing for every educator, family and student in Colorado. The Court’s ruling essentially allows the legislature to circumvent Amendment 23, passed by voters in 2000, and its clear mandate requiring the legislature to increase public education funds. The voters delivered a resounding message that all students, regardless of their zip code, deserve the support, tools, and time to learn. The Court’s ruling means the legislature can reduce public education funds by capping total school funding at their discretion. The Dwyer verdict ignores Colorado voters’ voice and will allow painful funding decisions to continue for all school districts. The state will march further down the destructive path of greater inequity between those who can ask their voters for local education funding increases, and those who cannot raise local resources to create great learning opportunities for their kids.
The chances a child has for success should not depend upon living in an affluent suburban neighborhood that can afford to raise additional education dollars. If we’re serious about every child’s future, let’s get serious about resourcing every public school so that all students have the education professionals they need, classes small enough for one-on-one attention, and a well-rounded curriculum. All students deserve a chance to succeed in school and become our state’s next generation of leaders and innovators. We will not give up our fight for a fair funding system that ensures every child has access to a high quality public education. Ending the negative factor is Colorado’s best bet for setting every student off toward a great future.
State Sen. Owen Hill, Republican chairman of the Senate Education Committee:
The decision is another reminder that we can’t just keep throwing money at education problems expecting improvement but that we need significant reforms that put the students’ and parents’ and teachers’ needs at the forefront of education funding decisions.
Kevin Larsen, Douglas County school board president:
The Colorado legislature needs to acknowledge that K-12 education funding is an increasing part of the general budget because the Gallagher Amendment forced the greater burden of funding to the state. Furthermore, the factors in the antiquated 1994 School Finance Act each year more heavily resemble political influences and demographics than the true cost of educating students.
We need to rethink this whole process and create a system that is equitable to all Colorado students. The system must be based on real costs where the money follows the child. It is critical to discontinue the artifices that concentrate resources in particular districts for reasons that have nothing to do with education and successful student outcomes.