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Judge rules Colorado education law unconstitutional

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - A Colorado judge ruled on Friday that the state's education law is unconstitutional because it underfunds public schools and fails to provide a "thorough and uniform" education to all students.

In a 183-page decision, Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport said the state legislature needs to craft a new school-funding mechanism.

But Rappaport stayed her ruling pending an expected appeal by the state to the Colorado Supreme Court.

"Evidence establishes that the finance system must be revised to assure that funding is rationally related to the actual costs of providing a thorough and uniform system of public education," Rappaport wrote. "It is also apparent that increased funding will be required."

The decision stems from a lawsuit filed by a southwestern Colorado family who said their daughter was receiving an inadequate education.

The lawsuit didn't ask the judge to order lawmakers to come up with a dollar figure to fund schools, but rather to decide whether the state is living up to the wording in the state constitution that mandates a fair and uniform education.

On the eve of the trial, Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper warned that if the plaintiffs prevailed it would force the state to divert general funds away from other programs, including transportation and health care.

"Paying for quality education for our children has always been a priority. The challenge in front of us now is providing a quality education in the face of ever increasing entitlement spending," House Speaker Frank McNulty, a Republican, said in a statement issued on Friday.

Last month, Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed sales and income tax increase to fund public schools.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Bohan)

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