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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.”