Courts Hear Colorado Constitution Case
Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport heard arguments in August in Lobato v. state of Colorado, the first-ever "adequacy case" in Colorado's history. The basis of the case is the state's setting of high standards of achievement for students and schools without having provided adequate funding to meet those demands. According to some witnesses for the plaintiff, computers, broadband for Internet access, and professional development are among the resources that have been lacking in Colorado schools for years, violating two clauses in the state's constitution.
School superintendents as well as college professors have testified for the plaintiff. The trial is expected to last through early September. The plaintiff is Taylor Lobato, a former student of Center School District. Now a college student, Lobato says that Center schools had no AP or IB classes and offered only limited textbooks and Internet access. She testified that her younger sister, a student at Center High School, and all students in the state deserve a "better education than I got."
The lawsuit was filed in 2005, after years of funding had been "very poor," says Kathleen Gebhardt, a lead attorney for the plaintiff. "I think conditions continued to deteriorate over a long period of time, and kids' rights were not being honored by the state," says Gebhardt, also executive director of Children's Voices, a nonprofit law firm of school advocates dedicated to equal access. The suit alleges that the state supplies schools with too little resources while demanding high standards, a typical complaint in many districts and states, especially in these tough economic times. It also alleges that the education system violates the state constitution's local control clause, which gives school boards control over instruction, and the education clause, which requires the General Assembly to provide a "thorough and uniform system of free public schools." "The problems are really clear when you look at children with disabilities, who come from families of poverty, who are learning English, or who are gifted and talented," Gebhardt adds.
The state attorney general's office says the lawsuit is about pouring more money into the K12 education system, which Gebhardt denies. Mike Saccone, spokesman for the attorney general's office, says that the plaintiff is seeking "$2 billion to $4 billion in additional money a year from the state for K12," which he claims would be at the expense of other spending, such as for higher education, Medicaid and welfare.
Gebhardt says the lawsuit is not about more money. Instead, she continues, testimony should show that "targeting of resources does result in improved achievement and that with adequate resources - we know how to improve achievement and how to effectively use those resources."