Court Won’t Hear Appeal Over Colo. Lands

April 28, 1999 1 min read


The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to hear the appeal of three Colorado school districts over the state’s future handling of 3 million acres of federal trust lands.

In their lawsuit, the districts argued that a 1996 state constitutional amendment shifting the mission of the state Board of Land Commissioners violates the terms of the 1876 federal law that allowed Colorado to join the Union.

The federal law required that a certain amount of land be “granted to the state for the support of common schools.” The state land board initially sold some of the land to provide income for the state’s public schools. But by the 1990s, 3 million out of 4.6 million acres of the federal-grant land remained intact.

When the land board began selling some valuable holdings, environmentalists pushed for a change in the state constitution.

In 1996, voters approved a measure changing the mission of the board from securing the “maximum possible amount” from trust lands for the public school fund to a goal of managing the lands to produce “reasonable and consistent income over time.”

The three rural districts--50-student Branson, 93-student Pritchett, and 330-student Springfield--argued that the amendment would result in less income for the public school fund and that it violated the 1876 federal law.

Both a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, based in Denver, ruled that the state constitutional amendment was consistent with the 1876 federal law.

The Supreme Court on April 19 declined without comment to hear the districts’ appeal in Branson School District v. Owens (Case No. 98-1336).

--Mark Walsh

A version of this article appeared in the April 28, 1999 edition of Education Week as Court Won’t Hear Appeal Over Colo. Lands