by Chet Hardin
In August, Lobato v. State of Colorado will be going to trial.
In June 2005, Children’s Voices, acting on behalf of 14 school districts in the San Luis Valley and parents and children across the state, filed suit against the State of Colorado, the State Board of Education, the State Commissioner of Education, and the Governor’s office, challenging the constitutionality of the Colorado school finance system. The suit is titled Lobato v. State of Colorado.
The challenge is based on two clauses in the Education Article. The Education Clause directs the General Assembly to “establish and maintain a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state, wherein all residents of the state, between the ages of six and twenty-one years, may be educated gratuitously.” The Local Control Clause empowers local boards of education with the “control of instruction in the public schools of their respective districts.”
Independent studies demonstrate that Colorado has failed to provide sufficient funding for public schools for decades. The public school finance system is not designed to meet the mandate of the Education Clause; indeed, the State has never attempted to determine the cost of a quality education, much less fund the school districts at the levels necessary to meet that cost. This violates the rights of all school children, but particularly those of students with special needs, including children of poverty, English language learners, special education students, and students at risk of failure.
According to a Colorado Education Association press release, when Children's Voices and its allies head back to court they will be armed with a new study—“Costing Out the Resources Needed to Meet Colorado Education Standards and Requirements"—that limns the "the state’s need to provide thorough, uniform funding for all K-12 students."
The state has implemented increasing amounts of education mandates in our schools with no additional funding. Districts with higher tax revenue bases have managed to cover the cost with some difficulty, but less wealthy districts were left completely exposed and cut programs and services to students to make ends meet. The state’s recent revenue shortfalls and massive education cuts are compounding the problem for all districts, but particularly for those that already made significant cuts to meet unfunded mandates.
“This report shows a major disparity between the inadequate level of our state funding and the realities we face in Colorado’s schools and classrooms,” said Colorado Springs District 11 Deputy Superintendent Glenn Gustafson. “Clearly, we have a very long way to go before our funding can be considered enough to begin to achieve the goals laid out for public schools.”
CEA, CASE and CASB look forward to presenting the report’s findings when the Adequacy Lawsuit goes before a Denver district court in August, and we are hopeful for a settlement that recognizes Colorado’s need to restructure public K-12 funding that truly promotes learning and achievement opportunity for all students.