Lobato v. State of Colorado Trial Begins; Case Seeks to Require Colorado to Step Up to its Constitutional Duty to Provide All Students a “Thorough and Uniform” System of Public Schools
Six years after its initial filing on behalf of Colorado school children, plaintiff parents, students and school districts, Lobato v. State of Colorado will be heard in Denver District Court beginning Monday, Aug. 1.
The case seeks a declaration that Colorado’s current system of school finance does not meet the state constitution’s guarantee of a “thorough and uniform system of free public schools.”
“The public school funding system in Colorado is broken,” said Kathleen Gebhardt, one of the lead attorneys on behalf of Lobato. “Parents, principals and teachers all know it. There is no rational connection between what the state expects schools to deliver and the resources the state provides. The state has never taken the due diligence step of determining what it costs to deliver what they have asked schools to produce. As a result, local school boards and superintendents are forced to make miserable choices about what cuts to make. Students are left with the raw end of the deal. At an alarming rate, Colorado is failing to deliver qualified high school graduates who are ready for college or the workplace. Certainly we can do better as a state and that starts with honoring the founding principles of the Colorado constitution.”
In 2008-9 (before the recession), Colorado spent $1,809 less per pupil than the national average, and K-12 spending on school finance is currently an estimated $774 million below the minimal increase required by Amendment 23. Colorado ranks at or near the bottom of states when it comes to funding special education and school children are attending schools that are crumbling and unsafe. A recent independent statewide survey uncovered a $17.9 billion backlog in school capital needs.
The trial is expected to last five weeks. The case will be heard by Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport. Defendants include Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Colorado State Board of Education and Colorado Commissioner of Education Robert Hammond.
Supporters of Lobato marked the beginning of the trial with a news conference on the west steps of the State Capitol on Sunday, July 31 at 11 a.m.
The lawsuit represents specific parents, students and 21 specific school districts. The majority of the state’s 178 school districts have endorsed Lobato. The lawsuit was filed by Children’s Voices, a non-profit law firm dedicated to achieving equal access to a high quality public education for all school-age children in Colorado. The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) has entered the case as plaintiff interveners on behalf of parents in four districts.
The case also alleges that, by failing to fully provide adequate resources to run schools, the current school finance system violates the local control clause of the constitution.
A key ruling in the case was made Oct. 19, 2009 when the Colorado Supreme Court held that the public school finance system must be reviewed by the courts to assure that it meets the constitutional requirement of a “thorough and uniform” system of public education. In that decision, the Court held that the claims of the plaintiff parents, school children and school districts in Lobato v. State may proceed to trial.
“The state has asked schools to do more and more and has given us fewer and fewer resources to complete the job,” said George Welsh, superintendent of Center School District 26JT. “We do our best but the dollars can only be stretched so far. It’s time for the state to return to our core principles when the state was founded, when public education was prioritized as something more valuable than the gold in our soil, which it is.”
Increasingly, Colorado schools are educating more and more students who require additional support and resources. Since 2001, the number of students eligible for free- and reduced- lunch has grown from 28 percent of students to 40 percent of students (2010). The number of students who are English language learners has grown from 71,000 to 117,000. The number of students who are homeless has more than doubled from 7,319 in 2004 to 15,834 in 2009. (Source: Colorado Dept. of Education.)
“I believe that public education is a non-partisan issue,” said Jeffco Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson. “I also believe that in this state, a strong and vital public education system benefits all of us and helps strengthen our communities. Our district has been proud to play a role as a leader in education reform and to implement new standards, new accountability systems and the new ways to evaluate teachers. However, the state has not tied its funding system to these reforms or estimated the cost of what it would take to implement them with fidelity. It’s time for that to happen.”
“Educational opportunity is the key to prosperity for every child, for every community and for our state,” said Boulder Valley School District parent Theresa Wrangham. “We are right to hold our schools accountable for providing every child with a quality education, but we are also right to hold the state accountable for providing sufficient resources so schools and all students can succeed. We can’t just set high standards and ignore resource needs. It’s not just irresponsible. It’s unconstitutional.”
Follow on Twitter: @TheLobatoCase