Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.



December 2011

United Judicial Fiefdoms of America

Written by , Posted in Education, The Courts, Criminal Justice & Tort

It is hard to square the American ideal of representative government with this sort of news:

Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport ruled in Lobato v. Colorado that the state’s funding system fails to provide the “thorough and uniform” education required by the constitution. She called the system “significantly underfunded,” even though Colorado now spends $3.2 billion, or about 45 percent of the $7 billion annual state budget, on K-12 education.

“There is not enough money in the system to permit school districts across the state to properly implement standards-based education and to meet the requirements of state law and regulation,” Judge Rappaport wrote in her Dec. 9 opinion. “There is not one school district that is sufficiently funded. This is an obvious hallmark of an irrational system.”

That’s funny, as I consider a singular, unelected judge determining it is her sole responsibility to set budget priorities as the hallmark of an irrational system.

I have 3 fundamental problems with this ruling: 1) It’s not the judge’s place to make such a determination, 2) Colorado education spending per pupil is in fact increasing, and 3) more spending has not worked in the past to improve education, and it won’t today.

While it can certainly be said that it was stupid of Colorado to include something as vague and meaningless in their Constitution as a requirement for “thorough and uniform” education, the responsibility to fulfill such a requirement is still necessarily legislative. Under what authority does this local judge imagine that her policy preferences outweigh those as expressed by the voters of Colorado, whom have already voiced their preferences for the spending of scarce resources? Consider the madness that would erupt if her petulant demands were actually carried out, and then tell me again what part of all this is irrational:

How much would it take to fund the state education system? The judge declined to name a dollar figure, but in her 189-page decision she cited a study introduced by the plaintiffs that called for an additional $2 billion to $4 billion per year.

That would require the state to devote 89 percent of the general fund to K-12 education, according to estimates by the attorney general’s office…

“I suppose you could basically shut down every other discretionary thing in the state budget,” said Independence Institute research director David Kopel on Friday’s edition of “Colorado Inside Out” on Colorado Public Television.

“We could get rid of higher education, get rid of the Colorado state patrol, get rid of every social service program we have in order to throw money into this sinkhole that Judge Rappaport pretends is mandatory under the constitution,” he said.

Unfortunately, this sort spontaneous judicial excitement is becoming increasingly common, hence the title of this post.

As you can see below, Colorado’s education spending, like that of the rest of the country, has been increasing steadily over time, even after being adjusted for inflation.

Will additional increases in spending actually help improve the quality of education? If history is anything to go by, the answer is a resounding no:

If this judge were actually serious about accomplishing her goal, she’d order the immediate abolition of the government’s monopoly on education.