Taylor Lobato, Plaintiff In Education Funding Lawsuit Gets Her Day In Court After Five Years

The Colorado student at the forefront of the education funding battle finally got to have her say in Denver District Court yesterday, five years after filing the lawsuit, Lobato v. State of Colorado.

Taylor Lobato, now 19 and a student at the University of Denver, is a graduate of Center High School in the San Luis Valley over 200 miles southwest of Denver. Her mother, father and sister Alexa are all plaintiffs in the case that includes other parents and 21 school districts in the state who argue that the state's public education funding system is unconstitutional and underfunded by at least $3 billion.

“[I am doing this] for my sister, because she deserves a better education than I got, and for all the other students in Center and the state, I just believe that they deserve an adequate education and they’re not getting it,” Lobato said in court. "This is bigger than me, bigger than my family."

Lobato went on to say that there were not enough books for everyone in her school, alleging that students often had to do homework while still in school and that no AP classes were offered.

The Denver Post just reported yesterday that some school districts, including Denver, will begin enforcing some textbook costs on parents and students this year. Colorado's Constitution in fact, says it's legal though it raises doubts that the state is providing a free public education.

When the lawsuit was filed in 2005, the state argued that education funding was a matter for the General Assembly and voters only, and filed a motion for the court to dismiss. Both the district and appeals court sided with the state, but in 2009 the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the decisions and ruled that school districts and other participants should have their say in court and challenge K-12 funding. The Supreme Court then sent it back to trial court, where the case is being argued now.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs have said that they do not seek a precise amount of per-pupil funding, and that they just want the court to rule the state's system of public education funding unconstitutional. The state however argues that it already pays close to two-thirds of public education costs and that the lawsuit is "constitutionally irrational" because "all parties agree that improving the quality of educational opportunities of the state’s young people is of vital importance".

An excerpt from the state's trial brief:

Each year, the General Assembly reviews the public school finance system. Just because it has not studied the system in the manner envisioned by Plaintiffs and Plaintiff-Intervenors does not mean the system is constitutionally irrational.

Meanwhile state Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, has taken the K-12 funding fight to voters by way of collecting signatures to get Initiative 25 on the ballot. The initiative would raise Colorado's taxes back to their 1999 levels, increasing income taxes from the current 4.63 up to 5 percent for the next five years, according to The Huffington Post. It could even help fill the vacuum of spending plaintiffs are seeking by generating approximately $3 billion for K-12 and higher education over the five year time span, though Heath is not listed as a plaintiff.