Bell tells Colorado Supreme Court that state's school funding system perpetuates the achievement gap
We have watched the Lobato v. Colorado court case with great interest over the last several years. The plaintiffs, originally a group of Colorado students and parents that has now been joined by 21 school districts, allege that our state's method and level of public school funding fails to meet Colorado's constitutional obligation to provide a "thorough and uniform" system of education. Last December, a district court judge ruled in their favor. The state has appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the matter should be decided by the legislative and executive branches, not the judiciary, and that funding of public education must be considered in the context of other budget decisions.
Our interest in this case prompted us to file an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief last week, co-signed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, on behalf of the plaintiffs. We agree that, ultimately, any solution must involve legislative and executive action - and perhaps voter approval of additional revenues. But we firmly believe the judiciary has an appropriate role to play. As with any constitutional provision, the words "thorough and uniform" must mean something beyond just what the legislature says they mean at any given time. Interpreting the meaning of the Constitution - and whether the legislative and executive branches are abiding by it - is precisely the purpose of the judiciary.
As you know, the Bell seeks to make Colorado a state of opportunity for all, regardless of socioeconomic status or ethnic background. We conceptualize the path to opportunity as passing through a series of key gateways, several of which emphasize access to opportunity through education. Unfortunately, not all children in Colorado have that access. In our brief, we argue that Colorado's funding system leads to the perpetuation of achievement gaps and a loss of opportunity between at-risk students and their peers. We assert that Colorado's method for funding public education is not rationally related to the constitutional mandate to provide a through and uniform system of education for students throughout the state.
We examined the achievement gap most recently in an issue brief in September 2011. Our analysis of Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) scores found that while overall student performance had improved, the gains made by low-income and minority students have not been large enough to close the gaps with their high- and middle-income and white peers. In fact, by several measurements the achievement gap in Colorado remains one of the largest in the nation. In our amicus brief, we argue that the arbitrary and irrational nature of the funding formula contained in the School Finance Act contributes to these persistent disparities.
Failing to provide quality educational opportunities for all students doesn't just disadvantage individual students. The education of Colorado's children is critical to building a successful economy and developing an engaged citizenry. Closing the achievement gap helps make Colorado a state of opportunity for all.
Our brief is one of many filed on behalf of the plaintiffs. You can read the other amicus briefs on the Web site of Children's Voices, whose staff are representing the plaintiffs in this case.
Article posted on October 1, 2012