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Landmark School Funding Trial Underway in Denver


A lawsuit that could make Colorado spend billions more on education each year began in Denver District Court Monday.  Parents and school districts are suing to force the state to completely restructure how it funds public education.  In their opening arguments in Denver District Court, attorneys for the plaintiffs cited statistics showing Colorado is increasingly below the national average in money spent per student.  They say that spending difference is causing low achievement and high dropout rates. 

Lawyer David Hinojosa said the plaintiffs are going to prove the way Colorado calculates education spending doesn't meet the standard of a thorough and uniform school system.

"Funding a child's education, based on politics and backroom bargaining, and not on actual need, violates both the Colorado educational clause and the civil rights of the students," Hinojosa said.

Attorneys for the state countered that the legislature puts tremendous resources into education and watches the impacts to make sure the system is fair and effective.  They also point to Wyoming, where a similar lawsuit in the mid-1990's resulted in significantly increased spending.  After more than a decade, the court there decided the increase in funding was satisfactory. 

"What hasn't been satisfactory is the fact that Wyoming school performance hasn't changed a bit," said Colorado's Attorney General John Suthers, a Republican.  "They're still below Colorado, by the way, and haven't moved up in the overall rankings."

The Colorado case is scheduled to last five weeks.  After opening statements, the court began hearing from a long list of witnesses, which will include parents, administrators, and education experts.  A number of prominent Coloradans are expected to testify, including Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia for the defense and former Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff for the plaintiffs. 

Daniel Costello reporting from the state capitol.

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.
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