Each day this week, Amicus will feature an editorial post written by one of CRCL’s new General Board members. Today’s post discusses the Colorado education case, Lobato v. State.

Trial for Lobato v. State started this week in a Colorado district court, a case in which 14 school districts from the relatively low-property tax area of San Luis Valley sued the State of Colorado, the State Board of Education, and the Governor, arguing the state has violated Colorado’s constitution by mandating programs in low-income schools that are already underfunded.  The case was brought by Children’s Voices, a non-profit law firm created to work on educational equity issues in Colorado.  This video uses striking visuals to dramatize what exactly is at stake given existing disparities in school funding.

If the judge finds for the Plaintiffs, Deputy Attorney General Geoff Blue has stated that there are three possible courses of action:  1) order the legislature to raise taxes in order to increase school funding, 2) change the budget to allocate additional education funds at the expense of another department/area, or 3) distribute money earmarked for education differently between districts.  The plaintiffs have asked for ongoing injunctions requiring the state to restructure school funding and ensure adequate education for all students via judicial oversight until the overhaul of the funding scheme is complete.

The specific challenge to Colorado’s current funding formulas is based on the “education clause” of the state’s constitution (article IX, section 2), which guarantees a system of free and public schools in the state, and the “local control clause” (article IX, section 15), which guarantees that local boards of education have final control over their districts.

The complaint alleges that performance evaluations required by the state, and the nationally popular No Child Left Behind program, have taken control out of the hands of local school boards.  The complaint also alleges that cuts in funding over ten years, which have saw Colorado fall from 35th to 49th nationally in education spending as a percentage of personal income, have made it impossible for local districts to provide an adequate free and public education to all students.   In this regard the Colorado case resembles previous successful litigation in other states that has challenged funding formulas on the basis that they lead to inadequate education for students in less wealthy areas.  Part of the cut in funding is a result of the Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (“TABOR”), which limits tax increases and prohibits school districts from raising property taxes and mill levies without voter approval.

The trial is before Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport.  Case documents, including discovery, can be found here.