DENVER — Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011 — Gov. John Hickenlooper released this statement today about the Lobato v. Colorado court case:
“It is clear after closely reviewing the judge’s decision in Lobato v. Colorado and consulting with Attorney General John Suthers that a final resolution of the constitutional and legal issues involved in the case require an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.
“The judge’s decision provided little practical guidance on how the state should fund a ‘thorough and uniform’ system of public education. Moreover, while the judge focused on the inadequacy of state funding, she did not reconcile this issue with other very relevant provisions of the Constitution, including the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23.
“There are more appropriate venues for a vigorous and informed public debate about the state’s spending priorities. We look forward to a swift decision in this case so the people of Colorado and their elected representatives can participate in the school funding conversation.”
Plaintiffs “Disappointed” In State’s Decision to Appeal Lobato Ruling
The following statement is from Kathy Gebhardt, executive director of Children’s Voices and the lead attorney on Lobato v. State of Colorado:
“We are disappointed by the governor’s announcement today that the district judge’s ruling will be appealed. We call on the legislature to act during the upcoming session as kids are continuing to go to school in failing facilities, with outdated textbooks, and in overcrowded classrooms.
“Our children have been in these conditions for decades and should the legislature not act, these conditions will continue to exist. Justice delayed is education denied. We continue to invite the state to a robust discussion on how we solve this funding emergency, which will not change as long as the current funding system is in place. Significantly absent from Governor Hickenlooper’s comments is any defense of the current system.
“Colorado has embarked on an ambitious reform agenda. This action assures that the state will continue to expect reform to proceed without sustainable resources.”
Background: In 2005, a group known as Children’s Voices filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s funding system for public schools as unconstitutional. The lawsuit asserted that Colorado’s school finance system has fallen increasingly behind the level necessary to ensure that all children receive a quality education and that there is no rational connection between the state’s school funding system and what the state is asking schools to accomplish. It also asserted that by failing to fully provide the adequate resources needed to run schools, the state is violating the “local control of instruction” clause of the Colorado Constitution. In October 2009, the Colorado Supreme ruled 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. The trial began on Monday, Aug. 1 in Denver District Court before Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport and ran for five weeks.
On Friday, Dec. 9 Judge Rappaport ruled overwhelmingly in the plaintiff’s favor. The strongly-worded, 189-page ruling declared the state’s school funding system unconstitutional and ordered the state to “to design, enact, fund, and implement a system of public school finance that provides and assures that adequate, necessary, and sufficient funds are available in a manner rationally related to accomplish the purposes of the Education Clause and the Local Control Clause” of the state constitution. (For a summary of key findings, click here. )
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 lawsuit represented specific parents, students and 21 specific school districts. The majority of the state’s 178 school districts 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) entered the case as plaintiff interveners on behalf of parents in four districts. Defendants include Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Colorado State Board of Education and Colorado Commissioner of Education Robert Hammond. A variety of prominent Denver law firms donated thousands of hours to the case.