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COLORADO SCHOOL FUNDING UNCONSTITUTIONAL

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.

The 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."

In addition 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

The 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 Hanushek.

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 Voices.

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.

Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19
www.edlawcenter.org


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