December 13, 2011
After a five-week trial earlier this year, in Lobato v. State,
Colorado District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport issued her decision
in favor of plaintiffs on December 9, 2011.
court finds, "The Plaintiffs have proved, indeed, it is essentially undisputed,
that the PSFA [state's school finance system] bears no rational relationship
to providing funding sufficient to successfully implement the standards-based
education system developed by the General Assembly." The court summarizes the
standards-based education system and the funding system that the legislature
put in place in 1993, and from that starting point makes clear that these two
systems---education and education finance---"which were not aligned to begin
with, have radically diverged."
The court also describes the "deplorable conditions of numerous rural schools
[buildings]" and weak categorical program funding to conclude that "the entire
system of public school finance ... is not rationally related to the mandate
of the Education Clause" of the Colorado Constitution. The court further explains
that the state has identified its "standard and measure of the education to
be provided," but its funding system fails to "determine the resources needed
to accomplish that [level of education]," and does not "fund ... the necessary
resources." See, especially, pages 174-179.
The court concludes that: "In short, the PSFA [Public School Finance Act]
has never been adjusted to address the costs associated with the progressive
implementation of the standards-based education and education accountability
systems or any other standards of educational quality;" and, "Colorado public
school children are not receiving the thorough and uniform educational opportunities
mandate of the Education Clause."
to "thorough and uniform" educational
opportunities, the Colorado Constitution requires "local control of instruction" under
the Local Control Clause. The court writes that "the irrational and inadequate
school funding system prevents school districts from implementing the Education
Clause mandate at a local level in violation of the local control mandates."
Court Orders Rational and Sufficient Funding System
court's ruling orders defendants "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." Nonetheless, the court stays this order while the case is
on appeal, if appealed, and until at least the end of the 2012 legislative
session to allow the legislature time to address the order.
Experts and Other Court Cases
The Lobato trial, as many recent educational opportunity
trials, was in part a 'battle of the experts'. The court found plaintiffs'
experts, including Colorado experts and national experts, Drs. Linda Darling-Hammond,
Bruce Baker, and Henry Levin, persuasive. The court also notes that it observed
weaknesses in the testimony of some defendant witnesses, including Dr. Eric
The court cites, among many reports and studies, the National
Report Card on fair school funding, authored by Dr. Baker and ELC's David
Sciarra and Danielle Farrie.
Naturally, the court follows the Colorado Supreme Court's Lobato remand
order. For more background and the Lobato court documents, see Children's
In the course of its analysis, the court cites sister state court decisions
from other successful educational opportunity cases, such as Montoy (KS), Abbott
(NJ), Campbell (WY), Claremont (NH), and Rodriguez (TX). See the Education
Justice website for up-to-date summaries of the state court litigations.