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Glass, Jeffco join education bill lawsuit

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Language impacting transportation between districts added to the bill

By Sal Christ

Jeffco Public Schools, along with five other school districts and two education industry organizations, has filed a lawsuit against the State of Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper and two others over the passage earlier this year of legislation aimed at better meeting the needs of students in foster care.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Denver District Court on Aug. 6, takes aim at a specific section of House Bill 18-1306 — otherwise entitled, “Improving Educational Stability for Foster Youth.” While the overall law was intended to provide more stability to students in foster care by allowing them to remain in their home schools regardless of where their foster homes are, additional language affecting overall transportation between all Colorado school districts was added to the bill and passed in the final days of the 2018 legislative session without public discussion or debate.
Section 7 of the legislation removed a longstanding provision that any Colorado school district wishing to provide transportation to an out-of-district student was legally required to first obtain permission from the student’s home district, regardless of the reason. Now, a school district may provide transportation to any student in another district without consent, even if said student is not in foster care.
While concerns have been raised over how the clause could affect student enrollment and therefore how much funding individual districts would
consequently receive from the state, most of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs are suing over the process and manner by which the law was enacted, and not the content.
“I had been tracking this as the legislative session wrapped up and I was really outraged about the addition of this amendment, which I think — as is evidenced by our inclusion on the lawsuit — violates the state constitution,” said Jeffco Superintendent Jason Glass, who has also joined the lawsuit as an individual. “I think it’s undemocratic how it was added. Our elected officials are sworn to uphold the constitution and this is part of it.”
Ken DeLay, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, echoed similar sentiments.
“Much of what we’re concerned about is the process,” he said. “Legislation is going to be messy, and there’s going to be a lot of give and take. However, the Colorado Constitution says these are the rules you have to play by. You can’t do what was done. Clearly, if the legislature wants to come back next year and pass a new bill, they should. Just do it right.”
    
Lawsuit alleges state constitution violations
According to the eight-page filing, the plaintiffs in the case allege that the legislation not only violates the “Single-Subject Law” part of Colorado constitution — wherein a legislative bill cannot contain more than one subject and wherein amendments cannot address matters outside of the bill’s original purpose — but was also crafted at the last minute “without debate or discussion in committee, with no notice to education policy stakeholders, and in the final week of the 2018 legislative session.”
The lawsuit further notes that Section 7 of the HB 18-1306 is identical to a section of another bill — Senate Bill 18-228 — that was killed in a House committee that day before the section was added to HB 18-1306.
In response, the plaintiffs have requested a legal injunction to prevent the law from taking effect while it’s being litigated.
In addition to Jeffco Public Schools, Glass and CASB, the Poudre Valley School District, Arapahoe County School District, Sheridan School District No. 2, El Paso County School District No. 12, Monte Vista School District No. C-8, the Colorado Association of School Executives and Poudre Valley Superintendent Cathy Kipp are all plaintiffs in the case.
The State of Colorado, the Colorado State Board of Education, Education Commissioner Katy Anthes, and Hickenlooper are named as defendants in the lawsuit because they oversee the implementation of these laws.

To view the original filing, visit: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/4641132/Complaint-for-Declaratory-and-Injunctive-Relief.pdf

Contact reporter Sal Christ at sal@evergreenco.com or at 303-350-1035. Follow her on Twitter at @decriture.