A Denver District Court judge has agreed with six Colorado school districts and two industry associations fighting the constitutionality of a new law that would have combined improvements in educating foster-care children with free transportation across district boundaries for all public school students.
Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, added the transportation amendment to the Improving Education Stability for Foster Youth bill late in this year’s legislative session.
Shortly after Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill, Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 in Colorado Springs and the other plaintiffs filed the lawsuit.
“I think it was unfortunate that we even had to go down that road,” said Cheyenne Mountain Superintendent Walt Cooper, who often testifies at the Capitol on education issues.
“It was all about the manner it came about, and the judge agreed it was not appropriate.”
The bill makes it easier for about 6,000 students in foster care statewide to attend their school of origin, regardless of where they live. But it also would have allowed school boards to furnish transportation to and from public schools for all students enrolled in that district but living in another district.
The language caused an uproar, as the transportation provision had been taken from a failed bill on school choice. Opponents claimed it would lead to poaching of students in the competitive arena of public education.
When the lawsuit was filed in August, Hill said bill sponsors consulted with lawyers and found the provision was the only way to add transportation for foster care students, and accusations that it was a sneaky way to insert a controversial school choice provision were “completely unfounded.”
“The idea was, if we’re to help foster kids, we can’t put all these bureaucratic burdens in place,” Hill said. “We can’t say with one hand, ‘We’re out there to help foster kids,’ and on the other hand, ‘We’re not going to allow kids to cross district lines.’ It’s inconsistent.”
Denver District Judge David Goldberg ruled Friday that the amendment violated the Colorado Constitution, which requires every bill to have a clear title that explains what the bill is about and deals only with one subject.
The amendment is “disconnected” from the rest of the bill, which will remain as approved, Goldberg said, and lawmakers and the public didn’t get enough notice about its inclusion before the bill was passed.
“It was easy for the critics to characterize our opposition as not being for school choice or not supporting foster kids, which is far from the truth,” Cooper said. The Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Association of School Executives also were plaintiffs in the suit.
With the plaintiffs prevailing, the law stays the same: Transporting students across district boundaries is prohibited without permission from the other school district, Education Commissioner Katy Anthes told superintendents in a letter she sent when the lawsuit was filed.
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