Lobato plaintiffs make case for adequate education funding at Colorado Supreme Court

Lobato plaintiffs make case for adequate education funding at Colorado Supreme Court – March 7, 2013

DENVER – The plaintiffs and their attorneys emerged from the Colorado Supreme Court in high spirits, confident they had made a compelling argument that Colorado needs to take action to correct the massive shortfall in public school funding in oral arguments presented today in Lobato v. State of Colorado.

Taylor Lobato, the Center High School graduate who is a named plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the adequacy of public education funding in Colorado, spoke to the media outside the Courthouse immediately after the hearing. Lobato told reporters about starting far behind in her studies at the University of Denver, and realizing she did not have access to education services offered at many other areas. She said she did not learn at the level of many other students.

“Right now, there are other children out there who don’t have opportunity, they don’t have people to help them, and they need the state to do that because that’s what the state has guaranteed,” said Lobato. “We have a long way to go. The Legislature has a long way to go. And it won’t be a win until the legislators provide an education system that provides for every single student in this state, and allows them to become the people of society that the State of Colorado needs.”

When asked how she came to represent equal opportunity in education for Colorado children, Lobato replied, “What a unique opportunity it is for me, not to represent myself, but to represent the students of Colorado everywhere. For that cause, I have no choice but to be here, because it’s not right.

“If the opportunity is here for me, it’s my responsibility, and I’m happy, and honored and humbled to be able to do so,” Lobato added.

Video Link: Taylor Lobato’s remarks at Colorado Supreme Court press conference

The Colorado Supreme Court heard the State defendants’ appeal of Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport’s December 2011 ruling that Colorado’s public school funding is “irrational, arbitrary, and severely underfunded,” and therefore violates the Colorado Constitution. Key findings of that decision are listed at this link to the Children’s Voices website.

David Hinojosa, attorney of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund representing families in the case, told reporters the State couldn’t define the “thorough and uniform” education prescribed by the Colorado Constitution in its oral arguments.

“If their Constitutional duty is to provide a thorough and uniform education, but they don’t even know what a thorough and uniform education is, how can the blind lead the blind?” asked Hinojosa. “We’re not talking about a fractured system. We’re definitely talking about a severe break in the system. [The State] just wants to look at the standards, they want to push the standards, push the rigor on the system, but they don’t want to look at the opportunities the children need in the classroom. Without them looking at the other side, of course they’re never going to get the job done.”

Video Link: David Hinojosa’s remarks at Colorado Supreme Court press conference

Bruce Caughey, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, spoke about the “unique system” of education in Colorado with new learning standards and educator evaluations.

“There’s no rational connection between what schools are expected to do, and how they’re funded,” said Caughey. “We need to close achievement gaps. We need to look at the 16.1% across-the-board cut that all schools have endured over the last four years. That’s $1.1 billion in cuts that impact all schools without a relationship of what we’re asked to do in schools.

“We want to do the right thing for all kids, not just some kids, and this case absolutely spells out exactly what needs to happen in this state to begin to address that deficiency,” said Caughey.

Plaintiff attorney Kathleen Gebhardt, executive director of Children’s Voices, was asked about State Sen. Mike Johnston’s proposal to rewrite Colorado’s School Finance Act, and how far that measure would go to improve public education funding if backed by a voter-approved tax increase.

“We believe that it fails to meet the threshold Constitutional issue,” explained Gephardt, noting that Johnston’s proposal wouldn’t perform a cost analysis for the public education system. “There’s huge deficits in meeting the needs of all students, especially when you look at special education kids, and at-risk and English Language Learners funding.

“Not to demean the fact that a $1 billion tax increase wouldn’t be something that is well received and well needed in Colorado, but it needs to be part of an overall plan as to how we actually get to Constitutional compliance. That plan has so far been missing,” Gebhardt added.

Terry Miller, the attorney who presented the plaintiff’s case before the Supreme Court, concluded the press conference by saying the defense “did not bother to bring up” its argument from the district trial that schools are inefficient with funding.

“This case showed, without a doubt, that our teachers and administrators know what to do, and they spend money effectively,” said Miller. “The defendants ran across the entire state looking for evidence of inefficiency. The trial court examined the best evidence they put on, and it rejected that notion.

“At trial, educators and teachers, one after the other, came to testify and talked about how they’re devoting their blood, sweat and tears,” said Miller. “They were all reduced to tears every time they testified because they can’t reach all the kids, but they know how to, and that’s an important part of the conversation moving forward.”

Glennwood Springs – Make School Funding a Priority

Kathy Gebhardt, lead attorney for the plaintiffs in Lobato vs. State of Colorado, today applauded the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent for its editorial calling on state leaders to make school funding inequities an immediate priority.

“The newspaper agrees with the vast network of parents, school districts and state organizations that support the Lobato case,” she said. “The paper’s analysis and willingness to see the disparities is appreciated. The school funding inequities are real and addressing the underlying problems is something that should be done now—not after another year of waiting for the courts. The school districts can’t wait and the students can’t wait.”

The newspaper noted the “very different conversations” taking place within three school districts that serve Garfield County. One district is deciding how to spend a voter-approved mill levy increase. Two others are facing grim budget-cutting decisions. The “stark contrast,” the paper noted, “illustrates the need for a reliable, inviolate source of state education funding that doesn’t create economic disparity between school districts.”

The newspaper noted Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport’s ruling that the current system is “irrational, arbitrary and underfunded” and lamented the decision by state leadership to appeal.

Instead of “heeding the call to action,” the newspaper said, “Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado State board of education both opted to appeal the decision. This only further delays what inevitably must happen in Colorado…it needs to be fixed.”

The newspaper concluded that the issue should be “at the forefront of priorities for the governor, the state Legislature and state education officials.” Read the full editorial here: http://bit.ly/xkoOAJ.

Appeal to delay resolution of Colorado’s school funding problems

News Release

Jan. 23, 2012

The state’s formal notice of appeal in Lobato v. State of Colorado is an anticipated but unfortunate step in the prolonged lawsuit to fix Colorado’s broken public school finance system, plaintiff’s attorneys and supporters said today.

“The judge’s decision in December was firm and resounding,” said Kathy Gebhardt, one of the lead attorneys on behalf of Lobato. “The state is failing to meet constitutional requirements that it maintain a thorough and uniform school system. The evidence from the trial was overwhelming. The judge found the system to be irrational, arbitrary and underfunded. It’s unfortunate the state will further delay a constitutionally required education for the children of Colorado, but we will defend the district court decision and, for the sake of the state’s students, hope that we can move forward with all deliberate speed.” Bringing the case to trial was a six-year process, she noted.

“It is clear that the state has no basis on which to defend the current school, finance system,” she added. “All of the state’s bases for appeal are technical arguments that do not speak to whether students are getting a constitutionally adequate education. In addition, the state’s appeal does not seek guidance on how to solve the revenue implications of the district court’s decision, which was its stated justification for the costly and time consuming appeal.”

The appeal is in response to Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport’s 189-ruling, issued in December, that represented a sweeping legal victory for the parents and school districts that brought the case. In her ruling, Rappaport cautioned that the state shouldn’t blame “current economic conditions” for the school finance crisis. The recession “made an unworkable situation unconscionable,” Rappaport wrote, but the “irrational and inadequate school funding” system is over two decades old.

The appeal, said Gebhardt, prolongs repairs and short-changes students: “The state is fully aware that too few students are graduating, that student achievement has remained flat for years and that achievement gaps based on race and income are among the largest in the nation,” she said. “None of this will change while state lawyers roll the dice on this appeal and delay the discussion that’s required.”

Added Aurora Public Schools Superintendent John Barry: “Analyses show what many of us in education know–Colorado is fast sinking to the bottom of the barrel when it comes to investing in our students and their future. Colorado is near the top five states in per capita income of the 50 states but in the bottom five states in the nation for per pupil revenue. I am conservative by nature and not an advocate for tax adjustments without very strong justifications but their needs to be a correction of some magnitude when there is such a disparity. Our students must be given a chance to be competitive in this global economy. We must signal to all that this state values its students and their future so it benefits all citizens.”

In 2008-09 (before the recession), Colorado spent $1,809 less per pupil than the national average. K-12 spending on school finance in Colorado is 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 too many 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 Lobato lawsuit represented specific parents, students and 21 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.

The lawsuit led to a five-week trial in August 2011. On Dec. 9, 2011 the court ordered that the state must design, fund, and implement a system of public school finance that enables all students in the state to graduate with the knowledge and skills necessary for citizenship, post-secondary education, and participation in the workforce.

In her decision, Judge Rappaport found that Colorado’s public schools are so underfunded that children throughout the state are being denied an adequate education, in violation of the state constitutional mandate of a “thorough and uniform” system of public education. The court recognized that school districts across the state are unable to provide the educational programs, services, instructional materials, equipment, technology, and facilities necessary to assure all children an education that meets the mandates of the Constitution and the state’s standards-based education system.

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Taylor Lobato Featured in University of Denver Student Newspaper

Taylor Lobato is featured in the Jan. 16 edition of the DU Clarion, the student newspaper for the University of Denver.

“Colorado’s education system could see a major overhaul, thanks to a lawsuit brought by a DU student against the state.

Taylor Lobato, a DU strategic communication major, along with Children’s Voices, a non-profit, sued Colorado for not providing a “thorough and uniform” education system like Colorado’s constitution mandates.  In late December Sheila Rappaport, a District Court Judge, ruled that the state’s education system could be underfunded by over $4 billion per year.  Governor John Hickenlooper and the Colorado State Board of Education are appealing the case to the Colorado State Supreme Court. If the case is upheld, the lawsuit would become one of the most important cases in Colorado’s history.”

Read more here.

PDF of the Court’s Ruling

Here is the PDF of the most recent Court Order

Appeal Announced

Gov. John Hickenlooper announced today (Dec. 21) that the state would appeal the decision in Lobato v. Colorado. In a prepared statement, he said the “final resolution of the constitutional and legal issues involved in the case require an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.”

Also today, the Colorado State Board of Education held a special meeting  to consider possible next steps regarding Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport’s ruling. Following an executive session, the board reconvened and announced it would hold another special meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 27 to vote on whether to appeal.

The State of Colorado, the State Board of Education, Governor John Hickenlooper and Commissioner Robert Hammond are named in their official capacities as defendants in the case.

Key Findings in Lobato v. State Trial Court Decision

Key Findings in Lobato v. State Trial Court Decision

(Note: For a PDF version of this summary including footnotes to specific pages in the 189-page ruling, click here.)

Importance of Public Education

Public education is one of if not the most important functions of Colorado state government. It is critical for individuals, business, and society that we have a well-educated populace . . . In order for Colorado to build a strong and competitive economy, all students must have the opportunity to obtain a quality education.

Spending on education should be viewed as a public investment, yielding a stream of benefits across decades.

The benefits of certain education reforms that have been proven to increase achievement, such as class size reduction, preschool expansion, and teacher salary increases, significantly exceed the costs, thereby justifying investment in these reforms today rather than paying the fiscal and social consequences of inadequate education later. By failing to make sufficient investments in these and other effective educational interventions, Colorado is trading short run budget savings for potentially much larger long run economic burdens.
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