Lobato v. Colorado
The Lobato lawsuit, the State of Colorado’s first education adequacy case, was originally filed in Denver County District Court in 2005 by parents and school districts who argued that the State of Colorado had failed to adequately fund their education. MALDEF intervened in February 2010, focusing on the irrational and inadequate funding for at-risk students and English Language Learner (ELL) students. MALDEF additionally sought a declaration that funding for facilities in property-poor school districts is insufficient and that communities have been stripped of local control. Shortly following the filing of the case, Colorado asked for the dismissal of the case, because it claimed that education funding decisions should be made by the General Assembly and the People, and the district court and court of appeals agreed and dismissed. Yet, in October 2009, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled to reverse those decisions, holding that parents, students, and school districts were able to challenge the state’s school finance system in the courts.
The trial began on August 1, 2011 in the District Court with plaintiffs arguing that the underfunding of public schools violates Colorado’s constitutional provision regarding the “thorough and uniform” system of public education as well as the “Local Control Clause” granting local school boards the “control of instruction” inside of their districts. MALDEF represented Colorado parents as plaintiff-intervenors seeking adequate funding for at-risk and ELL students in the Colorado school finance system.
In a 189-page, scathing decision following a the five-week trial, 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.” The court agreed with many of MALDEF’s claims including the assertion that the two-year limitation for state ELL funding is arbitrary and irrational and that total ELL funding is insufficient. With this ruling in favor of the plaintiffs on December 12, 2011, the court enjoined the current finance system and required 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 season.