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October 2, 2012

Based on "voluminous" and "essentially undisputed" evidence, the trial court declared, in Lobato v. State, that the state's school funding scheme violates the Colorado Constitution's education article, which guarantees free educational opportunity to all children in the state. On September 26, 2012, plaintiffs, plaintiff-intervenors, and many amici (friends of the court) filed briefs with the Colorado Supreme Court, urging the court to affirm the trial court's ruling.

In an amicus brief written expertly and pro bono by Lowenstein Sandler PC, Education Law Center and its national program, Education Justice, provide the Colorado Supreme Court with the national perspective on key issues raised in the appeal. Among other points, the ELC brief asserted that:

  1. Despite arguments by the State and state amici claiming there are no judicially manageable standards for this case, "the rise of standards-based education reform and decades of experience in other state courts make clear that the judiciary has an important and manageable role in protecting the constitution right of Colorado's children to a thorough and uniform education." The brief also stated that, "this Court has the institutional responsibility to interpret and enforce the Colorado Constitution ... ," with appropriate citations.
  2. Contrary to the argument by one of the amicus supporting the state, "the judicial trend toward enforcing state constitutional education clauses has not 'reversed' in recent years. On the contrary, with tightened budgets and reduced funding of school systems in recent years, the state courts' determined action to protect constitutional rights has been on an upswing" (citing cases, such as McCleary in Washington, CCJEF in Connecticut, Abbott in New Jersey, Hoke County in North Carolina, and Columbia Falls in Montana).
  3. Despite arguments by the state and one amicus that education funding does not correlate with academic achievement, "numerous studies, including many that the District Court relied on to make its wholly supportable findings, show that improved funding to provide better resources to educators and students results in higher student achievement," (citing New Jersey, Massachusetts, Kansas, Vermont, and Kentucky). Also the brief explains that, "many other state courts in similar cases have expressly recognized this correlation" (citing cases in Arizona, Arkansas, New York, Texas, and others), ... [and] "increased funding has improved education results in Colorado."

The numerous amici who filed briefs in support of the Lobato plaintiffs and plaintiff-intervenors, include:

  • Colorado Education Association
  • Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, The Legal Center for People with Disabilities and Older People, and The ARC of Colorado
  • Education Law Center
  • Brennan Center for Justice and Professors of Constitutional Law and Civil Procedure
  • Colorado Women's Bar Association, Colorado Hispanic Bar Association, Colorado Lawyers Committee, and Colorado Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Bar Association
  • Colorado Boards of Cooperative Educational Services Association, Colorado Rural Schools Caucus, and the Rural School and Community Trust
  • Colorado Association of School Boards and Colorado Association of School Executives
  • The Bell Policy Center and American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado
  • Kim Reorganized School District 88, Lake County School District R-1, and Limon Public Schools District Re-4J
  • Campaign for Educational Equity, Teachers College, Columbia University and the National Education Access Network
  • Padres Unidos and Colorado Association for Bilingual Education and
  • Great Education Colorado, Colorado Parent-Teachers Association, and Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented

For brief, up-to-date summaries of this litigation, and others, see Education Justice/States.

For in-depth treatment of Lobato, see the Children's Voices website.

Background: The Lobato plaintiffs filed their claims in 2005. In 2009, the Colorado Supreme Court denied the State's motion to dismiss and remanded the case for trial. In 2010, the Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund (MALDEF) filed a Complaint in Intervention on behalf of additional plaintiffs, which was unopposed by the Lobato plaintiffs and the state defendants.

In December 2011, after hearing five-weeks of testimony, the trial court issued comprehensive Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. The court found that, "Colorado public school children are not receiving the thorough and uniform educational opportunities mandate of the Education Clause" [of the Colorado Constitution]. Indeed, the court wrote, "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 State appealed and filed its opening brief with the Colorado Supreme Court in July 2012. In response, plaintiffs asserted that the points made in "the State's [brief] were technical, legal arguments that do not speak to whether students are getting a constitutionally adequate education. The State contends that it should be excused from meeting its duties to Colorado's students because to comply with the Constitution might be difficult."

One amicus brief for the State argued that Colorado simply cannot afford to provide a quality education to every student, regardless of the constitution's requirement. Plaintiffs' attorneys said that they "could not disagree more. Not only is this state capable of preparing all children for work and citizenship in the 21st century, it can't afford not to."

One of the plaintiffs, Taylor Lobato, a graduate of Center schools, said of the State's strategy, "Rather than throw our hands up, let's finally fix the problem. If we don't, we will have to continue importing talent from other countries while our own State's citizens join the ranks of the unemployed."

Plaintiffs also claim that some of the underlying circumstances that led to the filing of the Lobato case have continued to deteriorate, for example:

  • Teachers in Colorado averaged $5,200 less per year in inflation-adjusted dollars in 2010-2011 than they made in 1992-1993; and
  • Colorado spends $2,722 less per student than the national average.

Read Plaintiffs-Appellees Response Brief
Read Plaintiff-Intervenors-Appellees Response Brief.

Related Stories:
Colorado School Funding Unconstitutional
Key Findings in Lobato v State Colorado Ruling
Court Finds High Quality Pre-K Needed and Colorado Pre-K Weak
Colorado Underfunds Programs Needed to Teach English
Court Finds Colorado Shortchanges Students with Disabilities
Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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