The Corner

Voters Defeat Amendment 66, But What If Judges Get the Final Say on Education Spending?

On Tuesday, Colorado voters wisely rejected Amendment 66, which would have pumped almost $1 billion in new taxes into the state’s wasteful and inefficient public-school system. The amendment had powerful supporters from all corners of the education establishment – the teachers’ unions, the governor, almost every elected Democrat, Michael Bloomberg, Arne Duncan, the Gates Foundation, and many others. Remarkably, nearly two-thirds of Colorado voters still rejected Amendment 66.

It’s a gratifying demonstration that the political class, for all its wealth and influence, can still be defeated by ordinary citizens exercising the vote.

But sometimes citizens don’t get any vote at all. A favorite tactic of the more-ed-spending coalition is to bypass the democratic process via lawsuits. Judges will then use innocuous phrases in state constitutions — “effective public schooling,” or something along those lines — to seize control of education policy. Max Eden recently wrote on AEI’s blog about the Kansas supreme court, which used the word improvement in a sentence from the state’s constitution — “The legislature shall provide for intellectual, educational, vocational and scientific improvement by establishing and maintaining public schools” — to mandate that the legislature spend more money until test scores go up!

New Jersey is another infamous case. Two decades ago, the state supreme court used the New Jersey constitution’s requirement of “thorough and efficient” public education to demand a re-allocation of school spending that better fit the judges’ preferences. When Governor Chris Christie tried to reduce education spending through the normal legislative process, the court forbade the cuts from affecting its favored districts.

Perhaps the most well-known school-finance lawsuit happened in Kansas City, Mo., where a federal judge demanded salary increases for teachers, class-size reductions, preschool programs, and a host of other changes. Additional litigation went on for more than a decade, with taxpayers spending around $2 billion in court-ordered money – with, of course, no discernible impact on student achievement.

As for Colorado, earlier this year the state’s supreme court thankfully rejected a similar attempt to convert vague constitutional language (“thorough and uniform” schooling) into judicially mandated policy. Let’s hope that Colorado’s public-education establishment never wins in court what it could not win at the ballot box.

Jason Richwine is a public-policy analyst and a contributor to National Review Online.

Most Popular


The Democrats’ Disastrous CNN LGBT Town Hall

A few days after Donald Trump committed the worst foreign-policy blunder of his presidency by betraying America’s Kurdish allies in northern Syria, former vice president Joe Biden, the elder statesman and co-frontrunner in the Democratic presidential primary, was on a national stage talking to CNN’s primetime ... Read More
Film & TV

Joker: An Honest Treatment of Madness

When I saw that the New York Times and The New Yorker had run columns berating the new Joker movie, criticizing it not simply on cinematic grounds but instead insisting that the film amounted to a clandestine defense of “whiteness” in an attempt to buttress the electoral aim of “Republicans” — this is a ... Read More
White House

What Is Impeachment For?

W hat is impeachment for? Seems like a simple question. Constitutionally speaking, it also appears to have a simple answer: to cite and remove from power a president guilty of wrongdoing. Aye, there’s the rub. What sort of wrongdoing warrants removal from power? I’d wager that the flames of ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Fox News Anchor Shepard Smith Resigns

Fox News Channel's chief anchor, Shepard Smith, announced on air Friday that he would be resigning from his post after 23 years with the network. “This is my last newscast here,” said Smith. “Recently, I asked the company to allow me to leave Fox News. After requesting that I stay, they obliged.” He ... Read More

Beto Proposes to Oppress Church with State

Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign is within the margin of error of non-existence, but in his failure he has found a purpose: expressing the Democratic id. His latest bid for left-wing love came at a CNN forum on gay rights, where he said that churches that oppose same-sex marriage should have to pay ... Read More
Film & TV

The Breaking Bad Movie

I considered staying up until midnight last night to watch Netflix's two-hour Breaking Bad movie El Camino as soon as it went up, but I'm glad I didn't. It's fine, it's worth watching if you're a fan of the series (otherwise it'll mean nothing to you). But it doesn't answer any particularly compelling questions. ... Read More