The Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling on Lobato v. State of Colorado, is a landmark case for education funding in Colorado.
The Colorado State Constitution, framed in 1876, includes a mandate that the state legislature “establish and maintain a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state.” In the 2000s, after many years of education funding cuts, constituents and school districts around the state began to question if Colorado was, in fact, meeting this constitutional obligation. In 2009, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that this is an enforceable mandate, and that courts have the authority to review Colorado’s school finance system to determine whether it meets this constitutional standard.
In 2011, Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport concluded after a five-week trial that the education funding system was so underfunded in Colorado, that it was not just unconstitutional but “unconscionable.” She ruled in favor the plaintiff school districts, parents and students in the Lobato case finding that “[Colorado’s] public school finance system is irrational, arbitrary, and severely underfunded” and that Colorado is not complying with the Constitutional right of every child to a “thorough and uniform system of free public schools.” Subsequently, the State appealed the decision to the Colorado Supreme Court.
In May, four of six Colorado supreme court justices overturned the trial court’s decision, ruling that the state’s system for financing schools was constitutional. Following the supreme court’s decision, Gov. Hickenlooper said “the ruling affirms the constitutionality of the school finance system but it doesn’t address whether there is currently sufficient funding for education.”
The overturning of the district court’s decision on Lobato, means, as of today, there is no minimum amount of funding tied to “a thorough and uniform” education.
Sources: Great Education Colorado.org; Denver Post 5/28/13