A win for the children of Colorado

Late on the afternoon of Friday, Dec. 9, Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport issued a ruling for the plaintiffs in Lobato v. State of School, calling Colorado’s level of school funding “unconscionable.”

The strongly-worded ruling was announced during the Annual Colorado Association of School Boards convention in Colorado Springs, and the good news spread quickly throughout the gathering, which included many school board members and superintendents from across Colorado.

The decision represents a great day for the kids of Colorado!

For a seven-page summary of the 189-page ruling, click here.

The voices of the people who care about the future of public education in Colorado have been heard. We know that Colorado is not living up to the promise of our constitution, which requires the state to provide a “thorough and uniform system of free public schools.”

The state has failed to give schools the resources they need to meet the needs of all students. Inadequate funding has caused too many students to attend school in dilapidated and unsafe facilities, learn from obsolete textbooks, and miss out on critical 21st century learning opportunities.

Let’s take this opportunity to refocus our state’s attention and energy on the critical and constitutional duty of providing students with the education they need to succeed and become productive and contributing citizens.

We look forward to working with Commissioner Robert Hammond, Governor John Hickenlooper, and members of the State Board of Education and General Assembly on a remedy. Clearly this changes the conversation about the future of public education in Colorado—with the urgency of addressing this issue in the 2012 legislative session.

Some background

Since 2005, when Taylor Lobato was in 6th grade (today the DU sophomore is a very articulate spokesperson for the case), the Lobato case has moved through the courts gaining traction along the way. The Supreme Court has already ruled that school districts have a legal standing to sue the state, and that the courts have “justicibility” over this issue. The courts have the oversight to enforce our constitutional requirements, and the legislature and governor are undoubtedly responsible for finding a political solution to the problem.

For too long schools have been forced to do more with less, and those of us who work in schools also know that we cannot sustain high overall performance, close the persistent achievement gaps and raise expectations for college and career readiness without adequate funding.

This ruling clearly states that the plaintiffs provided “overwhelming evidence supporting the conclusion that with sufficient funding, school districts can meaningfully improve all students’ achievement… Unquestionably, additional financial resources appropriately applied can improve student achievement, which, under the standards-based system, is the ultimate measure of the success of a thorough and uniform system of public education.”

Judge Rappaport went on to write, “It is not this court’s function to determine at this time the amount necessary to provide adequate funding for public education…However, the court does find that public education is very significantly underfunded and that any legislative response of necessity must address the level of funding necessary to meet the mandate of the Education Clause and the standards-based system and should provide funding consistent with that standard.”

Yes, we have a system that shows many islands of excellence that are sustained by hardworking and talented educators, but we need to do more to ensure ALL kids are served. This ruling will help provide some teeth for us to push for solutions and to create dialogue that can ultimately make a difference for our kids. Especially when it comes to children from impoverished backgrounds, it will take more resources, more time in school, early childhood support and new interventions. All of these critical supports require funding.

As we have said repeatedly, this ruling is not the end of the process, but in reality it is the beginning of a new process. Now the work begins to try to find a solution and, yes, the case will undoubtedly be appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court. As you may have heard, Governor Hickenlooper just appointed John Boatright to the state’s highest court; he is a district court judge and registered Republican who is a relative unknown.

Regardless of the court actions from this point forward, this court’s very strong ruling gives us a new lever to move the dialogue forward in a direction that will ultimately support schools and kids. The attorneys for the case, in conjunction with researchers and supporters, have laid out a list of remedies that they think will help to solve the problem.

Some quotes:

“It may be too late for me, and it may be too late for my sister, but there are so many other students in the public education system.” - Taylor Lobato, daughter of Anthony Lobato, lead plaintiffs on the lawsuit


“While we don’t know the answers to many of the serious questions the ruling raises, we do know that the intensity and volume of the conversation on how the state funds its schools will be turned up for the foreseeable future. At the same time, the case will likely work its way to the state’s highest court for the next stop on its remarkable journey.” - Denver Post Editorial on Saturday, December 10

“It is…apparent that increased funding will be required.” - Judge Sheila Rappaport

“It makes a statement about the necessity of adequate school funding.” - State Senator Evie Hudak

“We’re still confronted with budget constrictions. It’s time to talk and take action and the action should benefit all children.” - Colorado Springs D-11 Superintendent Nicholas Gledich

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