ELL and low-income students will remain hostage to an arbitrary and irrational funding system for Colorado schools

DENVER, CO - Today, in a 4-2 decision, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed a Denver District Court’s opinion in Lobato/Ortega v. Colorado that Colorado’s public school finance system is “irrational, arbitrary, and severely underfunded.” The Supreme Court held that the state’s arbitrary school finance system complies with the Colorado constitution, concluding that the system is “thorough and uniform” across the state and provides for local control over instruction in schools. Importantly, while the Court held that the system passed minimal constitutional muster, the Court acknowledged that the trial court’s findings “demonstrate that the current public school financing system might not be ideal policy.”

MALDEF President and General Counsel, Thomas A. Saenz, stated, “It has been 40 years since the United States Supreme Court rendered its deplorable decision in San Antonio ISD v. Rodriguez, concluding that education is not a fundamental right under our federal Constitution. The Colorado Supreme Court's timorous decision today, abandoning the state to a dim future of inadequately educated citizenry, encapsulates the folly in failing to ensure, at a national level, an equitable and quality education for all. The public in Colorado can and should demand better of its public servants.”

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 a scathing dissent, Colorado Chief Justice Bender said “the record reveals an education system that is fundamentally broken;” and that the “General Assembly has failed to recognize” the “dramatic increases in the number of Hispanic students, low-income students, and English Language Learners, and students with special needs.” Justice Hobbs joined him in dissent.

“The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision is a devastating setback for Colorado schoolchildren, especially for its at-risk students who are struggling miserably,” stated MALDEF Southwest Regional Counsel David Hinojosa, lead counsel for Intervenor parents and at-risk children in the case. “The Court missed its opportunity to hold the State accountable by setting the bar so low that a one-room schoolhouse is somehow good enough in today’s world. But the people of Colorado still ultimately retain the power to provide equal educational opportunities for all and we encourage Coloradoans to do so through honest and effective legislation.”

Additional counsel included MALDEF staff attorney, Marisa Bono. 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 "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" 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:

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund