The Denver Post has reported that after eight years after it was first filed, the biggest legal challenge in history to the state’s system of funding public schools is finally being played out before Colorado Supreme Court justices. Hearings in the case began on March 3, 2013 (http://www.denverpost.com/politics/ci_22734537/colorado-supreme-court-hear-historic-school-funding-case).
The mammoth court case, Lobato vs. State of Colorado, was filed in 2005 by a group of parents from around the state and school districts from the San Luis Valley. The suit alleges the state’s current school-funding system fails to provide a “thorough and uniform” system of education as outlined in the Colorado Constitution.
Plaintiffs in the suit, as well as the state, represented by Attorney General John Suthers’ office, presented oral arguments in the case.
Kathy Gebhardt, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs stated:
“This case is about our kids and Colorado’s future,” said. “Fifty years from now, our kids will face unimaginable global challenges, and they will be armed only with the education that we provide today” (ibid)..
To see how Colorado schools are funded you can go to (http://www.greateducation.org/statistics-faqs/funding-faqs/public-school-funding/).
In 2011, Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport agreed with plaintiffs in the case that the way the state funds schools does not meet the requirement of a “thorough and uniform” system. This then sent the case to the Supreme Court of Colorado.
Lawyers for the state argued that the question of how much should be spent on education is not one for the courts and should be left to the legislature and voters. The state also argues more money alone does not necessarily create better schools.
Suthers’ office contends Rappaport erred by excluding evidence that the state, in its funding of education, must weigh a variety of constitutional mandates, including TABOR, which limits state spending and requires a vote of the people for tax hikes; Amendment 23, which mandates higher spending every year on schools; and the Gallagher Amendment, which has shifted the bulk of the burden for funding schools away from local districts and to the state (ibid).
One of the biggest problems facing plaintiffs is that Justice Monica Marquez, who prior to being appointed to the court served as a deputy attorney general to state legal representative, Suthers and worked on the state’s defense in the case.
Monica Marquez is an associate justice on the seven member Colorado Supreme Court. She was first appointed to the court in the state’s Commission-selection, political appointment method of judicial selection on September 8, 2010 by Governor Bill Ritter to replace retiring Judge Mary Mullarkey. Her current term expires in January of 2015. Marquez’s father Jose Marquez was the first Latino to serve on the Colorado Court of Appeals (http://judgepedia.org/index.php/Monica_Marquez).
Marquez recused herself from the hearing in the matter due to the conflict of interest. This now creates a 3-3 split on the court, which would mean Rappaport’s ruling would stand (http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_22738785/colorados-high-court-hears-school-funding-lawsuit-arguments).
.Plaintiffs in the case, who represented students and school districts across the state, have not sought a certain sum of money to fix the problem. However, they have pointed to studies showing the state needs up to $4 billion more to provide an adequate education.
The state now spends more than 39.8 percent, or $3 billion in the 2012-13 fiscal year that ends in June, of its $7.5 billion general fund on K-12 schools.
Justices are not expected to rule until months later. The ruling could be a dice toss.
Readers can watch some of the oral arguments online at (www.courts.state.co.us/lobatovstate).