Major MALDEF Victory in Landmark Colorado School Finance Case
Court finds the State's current system unconstitutional and requires funding to be based on actual costs of providing a thorough and uniform system of public education
DENVER, CO – On Friday, a state district court in Denver, Colorado ruled in favor of plaintiffs in the State’s first adequacy case, Lobato v. Colorado, a lawsuit in which MALDEF represented Colorado parents as plaintiff-intervenors seeking adequate funding for at-risk and English Language Learner ("ELL") students in the Colorado school finance system.
In a 189-page, scathing decision following a five-week trial in August of 2011, the court held that "the Colorado public school finance system is not rationally related to the mandate to establish and maintain a thorough and uniform system of free public schools. On the contrary, the public school finance system is irrational, arbitrary, and severely underfunded."
With this ruling, the court enjoined the current finance system and requires the General Assembly to adopt a system that "fulfills the qualitative mandate of the Education Clause and the rights guaranteed to the Plaintiffs thereunder and that is in full compliance with the requirements of the Local Control Clause." The injunction is stayed until the end of the 2012 legislative session.
Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel, stated, "Latino students in Colorado and nationwide are essential to our nation's future continued success and prosperity. The court's decision is one critical step toward ensuring that we invest adequately and fairly in our national future by ensuring that all public school students receive the right educational tools to contribute to their full potential."
David Hinojosa, MALDEF Southwest Regional Counsel and lead counsel for plaintiff-intervenors in the case, added, "The court's courageous decision is the first step in fixing a broken educational system that disproportionately harms at-risk and ELL students. We hope the General Assembly will see this as a wake-up call and live up to its responsibility under the Colorado Constitution by fully and fairly funding educational opportunity for all school children, including Colorado’s most vulnerable."
The Lobato plaintiffs originally filed the lawsuit in Denver District Court in 2005 on behalf of parents and school districts, arguing that the State of Colorado had failed to adequately fund their education. MALDEF's intervention in February 2010 focused on the inadequate funding for at-risk students and ELL students. MALDEF also sought a declaration that funding for facilities in property-poor school districts is insufficient and that such communities have been stripped of local control over their educational programs.
In its ruling, the court stated, "there is not enough money in the system to permit school districts across the State to properly implement standards-based education and to meet the requirements of state law and regulation. This is true for districts of every description – rural, suburban, urban and those with small or large student populations. There is not one school district that is sufficiently funded. This is an obvious hallmark of an irrational system.”
The court went on to state that "The problem has been compounded by the fact that during this same time Colorado and virtually every school district have experienced significant demographic changes, particularly in the number and concentrations of English language learners, ethnic minorities, and children of poverty."
Among the courts findings relative to the plaintiff-intervenor claims, the court agreed with MALDEF that the two-year limitation for state ELL funding is arbitrary and irrational and that the total ELL funding is insufficient. The court also agreed that the amount of funding for at-risk students is inadequate and the failure to include students on the reduced-priced lunch program for at-risk funding is arbitrary. Further, the court agreed that preschool and full-day kindergarten programs benefit especially at-risk and ELL students and the State’s failure to fully fund quality programs is irrational. The court further held that many low wealth school districts in the state were not adequately funded to meet their school facility needs.
MALDEF counsel included staff attorneys Marisa Bono and Rebecca Couto. Local counsel included Henry Solano from Dewey LeBoeuf LLP and Steven Perfrement from Holme, Roberts & Owen LLP.
Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "law firm of the Latino community," MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit: www.maldef.org.
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