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Colo. Supreme Court Upholds Lawmakers' Cuts to School Funding

Colorado lawmakers did not violate the state constitution when they made cuts to K-12 funding starting in 2010, even though voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2000 mandating certain increases to state school aid, the state's highest court ruled on Monday.

In Dwyer v. Colorado, the justices found in a 4-3 decision that although Amendment 23 required lawmakers to increase the state's base per-pupil funding on an annual basis, it did not prohibit cuts to total state school spending that legislators subsequently made in the wake of the Great Recession.

Chalkbeat Colorado reported that the decision was "not unexpected" but closed the book on efforts by school funding advocates to score a victory in the courts.

It's the second major ruling in Colorado on K-12 finance in the past two years. In a broader 2013 ruling in Lobato v. Colorado, the state's top court rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of the state's school funding system, which plaintiffs charged was inequitable and did not provide a uniform system of education.

The Dwyer case was narrower. The plaintiffs focused on education cuts that they said violated Amendment 23. However, in the majority decision, the justices found in an opinion written by Chief Justice Nancy Rice that the amendment's language clearly dealt specifically with base per-pupil aid shared by all districts, and not with other state aid that varied between districts. Starting in 2010, lawmakers applied a "negative factor" that cut various amounts of state aid away from districts.

In a dissent, Justice Monica Marquez argued that these other cuts rendered increases to the base per-pupil aid "ultimately irrelevant" and therefore violated Amendment 23. 

In 2013, in an effort to counteract these cuts, Colorado teachers' unions and others supported Amendment 66, a ballot initiative that would have increased taxes and applied the additional revenues to education. Amendment 66 was soundly defeated at the polls, however.

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