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Press Release – March 7, 2013

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

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.”

 

PRESS RELEASE - March 7, 2013

Today the Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Lobato v. State of Colorado school finance case.   This case was filed nearly 8 years ago when Taylor Lobato was in middle school in Center, Colorado and her sister Alexa, was in elementary school.  Taylor is now a junior at the University of Denver and Alexa is a senior at Center High School.

This case asserts that the current system of school finance violates two provisions of the Colorado Constitution: the thorough and uniform and the local control of instruction clauses.   The plaintiffs include 21 school districts from across Colorado, along with parents from another 6 school districts.  These plaintiffs represent the varied and diverse student population in Colorado schools today. A 5-week trial was held in August 2011.  In December 2011, Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport issued a 183 page ruling in favor of the plaintiffs.  In her ruling, Judge Rappaport found:

“The Colorado public school finance system is not rationally related to the mandate to establish and maintain a thorough and uniform system of free pubic schools.  On the contrary, the public school finance system is irrational, arbitrary, and severely underfunded. “

The State appealed Judge Rappaport’s decision.  The appeal addressed three issues:  1) whether this case presents a justiciable question; 2) whether the trial court erred in following the direction from the Supreme Court in applying a rational relationship test; and 3) whether the current system violates local control of instruction.

The State did not appeal any of the findings of fact of the trial court.  Since the trial court decision, the Legislature has enacted additional unfunded mandates, and has continued to cut education funding.

Today, the plaintiffs continued to advocate for the constitutional rights for all of Colorado’s school children.   Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the current school finance system is not meeting either the needs or constitutional rights of Colorado’s school children thereby giving the legislature a chance and the impetus to meet their own goal:  preparing every student to be successful in a 21st century economy.

“This case is about our kids and Colorado’s future.  What happens in our classrooms today will determine what kinds of lives our children will live and the kind of society we will live in.  Fifty years from how, of all the players and interests involved in this case, the only ones that will be left standing are the Constitution, and citizens and worked facing unimaginable global challenges, and armed only with the education that we provide today.”

 
March 6, 2013Lobato plaintiffs to hold press conference after oral arguments at Colorado Supreme Court DENVER – Taylor Lobato, the Center High School graduate who is a named plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the adequacy of public education funding in Colorado, will speak to the media Thursday, March 7, at 11:00 a.m., at the Colorado Supreme Court following the presentation of oral arguments by the parties in Lobato v. State of Colorado. Ms. Lobato will be joined by Kathy Gebhardt and Terry Miller, two of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs.

The Colorado Supreme Court is hearing 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.

“This case has been ongoing for eight years”, said Gebhardt. “During that time, the violation of Colorado children’s constitutional rights has continued: school budgets have been cut, mandates added, class sizes increased, school hours decreased, student populations increased, and the number of teachers decreased. The trial court, after hearing evidence for five weeks, found that the current system of school finance is not only unconstitutional but unconscionable.

“It is time for Colorado to step up and provide the best possible high-quality education to every child by enacting a funding system that ensures every child has the opportunity to succeed.  A high-quality, 21st century education is vital to Colorado’s ability to be successful in a global economy,” Gebhardt added.

Media covering the press conference should be in place by 10:30 a.m. in front of the Courthouse. There is no need to RSVP.

# # #

News Release 

 
Dec. 21, 2011
 
Plaintiffs “Disappointed” In State’s Decision to Appeal Lobato RulingThe following statement is from Kathy Gebhardt, executive director of Children’s Voices and the lead attorney on Lobato v. State of Colorado:“We are disappointed by the governor’s announcement today that the district judge’s ruling will be appealed. We call on the legislature to act during the upcoming session as kids are continuing to go to school in failing facilities, with outdated textbooks, and in overcrowded classrooms.“Our children have been in these conditions for decades and should the legislature not act, these conditions will continue to exist. Justice delayed is education denied. We continue to invite the state to a robust discussion on how we solve this funding emergency, which will not change as long as the current funding system is in place. Significantly absent from Governor Hickenlooper’s comments is any defense of the current system.“Colorado has embarked on an ambitious reform agenda. This action assures that the state will continue to expect reform to proceed without sustainable resources.”Background: In 2005, a group known as Children’s Voices filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s funding system for public schools as unconstitutional. The lawsuit asserted that Colorado’s school finance system has fallen increasingly behind the level necessary to ensure that all children receive a quality education and that there is no rational connection between the state’s school funding system and what the state is asking schools to accomplish. It also asserted that by failing to fully provide the adequate resources needed to run schools, the state is violating the “local control of instruction” clause of the Colorado Constitution. In October 2009, the Colorado Supreme ruled that the public school finance system must be reviewed by the courts to assure that it meets the constitutional requirement of a “thorough and uniform” system of public education. The trial began on Monday, Aug. 1 in Denver District Court before Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport and ran for five weeks.On Friday, Dec. 9 Judge Rappaport ruled overwhelmingly in the plaintiff’s favor. The strongly-worded, 189-page ruling declared the state’s school funding system unconstitutional and ordered the state to “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” of the state constitution. (For a summary of key findings, click here.)

In 2008-9 (before the recession), Colorado spent $1,809 less per pupil than the national average, and K-12 spending on school finance is currently 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 school 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 lawsuit represented specific parents, students and 21 specific 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. Defendants include Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Colorado State Board of Education and Colorado Commissioner of Education Robert Hammond. A variety of prominent Denver law firms donated thousands of hours to the case.

More info: http://lobatocase.org;

—————————————————————————————————-
News Release
 
July 31, 2011
 
Lobato v. State of Colorado Trial Begins; Case Seeks to Require Colorado to Step Up to its Constitutional Duty to Provide All Students a “Thorough and Uniform” System of Public SchoolsSix years after its initial filing on behalf of Colorado school children, plaintiff parents, students and school districts, Lobato v. State of Colorado will be heard in Denver District Court beginning Monday, Aug. 1.
The case seeks a declaration that Colorado’s current system of school finance does not meet the state constitution’s guarantee of a “thorough and uniform system of free public schools.”“The public school funding system in Colorado is broken,” said Kathleen Gebhardt, one of the lead attorneys on behalf of Lobato. “Parents, principals and teachers all know it. There is no rational connection between what the state expects schools to deliver and the resources the state provides. The state has never taken the due diligence step of determining what it costs to deliver what they have asked schools to produce. As a result, local school boards and superintendents are forced to make miserable choices about what cuts to make. Students are left with the raw end of the deal. At an alarming rate, Colorado is failing to deliver qualified high school graduates who are ready for college or the workplace. Certainly we can do better as a state and that starts with honoring the founding principles of the Colorado constitution.”In 2008-9 (before the recession), Colorado spent $1,809 less per pupil than the national average, and K-12 spending on school finance is currently 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 school 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 trial is expected to last five weeks. The case will be heard by Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport. Defendants include Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Colorado State Board of Education and Colorado Commissioner of Education Robert Hammond.Supporters of Lobato marked the beginning of the trial with a news conference on the west steps of the State Capitol on Sunday, July 31 at 11 a.m.The lawsuit represents specific parents, students and 21 specific school districts. The majority of the state’s 178 school districts have 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) has entered the case as plaintiff interveners on behalf of parents in four districts.

 The case also alleges that, by failing to fully provide adequate resources to run schools, the current school finance system violates the local control clause of the constitution.

A key ruling in the case was made Oct. 19, 2009 when the Colorado Supreme Court held that the public school finance system must be reviewed by the courts to assure that it meets the constitutional requirement of a “thorough and uniform” system of public education. In that decision, the Court held that the claims of the plaintiff parents, school children and school districts in Lobato v. State may proceed to trial.

“The state has asked schools to do more and more and has given us fewer and fewer resources to complete the job,” said George Welsh, superintendent of Center School District 26JT. “We do our best but the dollars can only be stretched so far. It’s time for the state to return to our core principles when the state was founded, when public education was prioritized as something more valuable than the gold in our soil, which it is.”

Increasingly, Colorado schools are educating more and more students who require additional support and resources. Since 2001, the number of students eligible for free- and reduced- lunch has grown from 28 percent of students to 40 percent of students (2010). The number of students who are English language learners has grown from 71,000 to 117,000. The number of students who are homeless has more than doubled from 7,319 in 2004 to 15,834 in 2009. (Source: Colorado Dept. of Education.)

“I believe that public education is a non-partisan issue,” said Jeffco Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson. “I also believe that in this state, a strong and vital public education system benefits all of us and helps strengthen our communities. Our district has been proud to play a role as a leader in education reform and to implement new standards, new accountability systems and the new ways to evaluate teachers. However, the state has not tied its funding system to these reforms or estimated the cost of what it would take to implement them with fidelity. It’s time for that to happen.”

“Educational opportunity is the key to prosperity for every child, for every community and for our state,” said Boulder Valley School District parent Theresa Wrangham. “We are right to hold our schools accountable for providing every child with a quality education, but we are also right to hold the state accountable for providing sufficient resources so schools and all students can succeed. We can’t just set high standards and ignore resource needs. It’s not just irresponsible. It’s unconstitutional.”

More info: http://lobatocase.org; http://childrens-voices.org/

Follow on Twitter: @TheLobatoCase
 
 __________________________________________________________________
 
 
Media Advisory

July 27, 2011

Kick-Off Event Sunday, July 31 at State Capitol to Mark Start of School Funding Lawsuit; Case Seeks to Require Colorado to Step Up to its Constitutional Duty to Provide All Students a “Thorough and Uniform” System of Public Schools

What:            Kick-0ff event and news conference to mark the Monday, Aug. 1 trial start of Lobato v. State of Colorado, challenging the state’s public school funding system.

Who:              Plaintiff parents and school district representatives from across the state. Speakers will include Lobato v. State of Colorado lead attorney Kathleen Gebhardt, Jeffco Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson, Center School District Superintendent George Welsh and others.

Key Visual:  Students will demonstrate the current levels of Colorado per-pupil school funding with a human graph on the Capitol steps.

Where:                     West Steps, State Capitol Building, downtown Denver

When:                       11 a.m., Sunday, July 31

Background:            In 2005, a group known as Children’s Voices filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s funding system for public schools as unconstitutional. The lawsuit asserts that Colorado’s school finance system has fallen increasingly behind the level necessary to ensure that all children receive a quality education and that there is no rational connection between the state’s school funding system and what the state is asking schools to accomplish. It also asserts that by failing to fully provide the adequate resources needed to run schools, the state is violating the “local control of instruction” clause of the Colorado Constitution. In October 2009, the Colorado Supreme ruled that the public school finance system must be reviewed by the courts to assure that it meets the constitutional requirement of a “thorough and uniform” system of public education. The trial is set to start at 8 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 1 in Denver District Court, 1437 Bannock St.; Courtroom 424 on the fourth floor. (Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport).

More info:     http://lobatocase.org; http://childrens-voices.org/

Twitter:        Follow @TheLobatoCase

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