The Colorado Supreme Court heard arguments in the state's biggest school funding case, Lobato v. State of Colorado, Thursday morning.
Filed in 2005 by a group of parents from around the state and school districts in the San Luis Valley, the suit now includes 21 school districts across the state.
The lawsuit argues that Colorado is flunking its own constitution, and by extension, its own students. The state's constitution calls for a "thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state" but, plaintiffs argue, students are not receiving that throughout the state.
In their closing statement before the Colorado Supreme Court, Lobato lawyers argued:
This case is about our kids and Colorado’s future. What happens in our classrooms today will determine what kinds of lives our children will live and the kind of society we will live in. Fifty years from now, of all the players and interests involved in this case, the only ones that will be left standing are the Constitution, and citizens facing unimaginable global challenges, and armed only with the education that we provide today.
In 2011, Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport sided with plaintiffs in a 183-page ruling saying that "there is not one school district that is sufficiently funded."
“The Colorado public school finance system is not rationally related to the mandate to establish and maintain a thorough and uniform system of free pubic schools. On the contrary, the public school finance system is irrational, arbitrary, and severely underfunded," Rappaport said.
But the state argued, more money by itself would not necessarily translate into better education. The state also argued that the Legislature already spends 45 percent of their general fund on education.
Chief Justice Michael Bender said that he felt the central question was "what's the balance here between the role of the court and the role of the Legislature?"
Assistant attorney general Jonathan Fero argued that though "we have legislative goals (they're) not constitutional requirements."
"I'm a little bit concerned that the argument is, 'We can't do it,' and therefore becomes an excuse for, 'We won't do it,' " Justice Gregory Hobbs said. "When I think the evidence is fairly overwhelming that there's disparate treatment."
Last year Colorado Attorney General John Suthers filed to appeal the decision, arguing in part that Rappaport should have considered the state's Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, in the case.
Colorado's Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper also argued that there were "more appropriate venues" for a public debate about the state's school funding and that Rappaport's decision gave "little practical guidance on how the state should fund a 'thorough and uniform' system of public education."
Justice Monica Marquez recused herself from Thursday's hearing because she had served as a deputy attorney general to John Suthers prior to being appointed to the court. According to The Denver Post, her recusal means that the court could be split 3-3, which would mean that Rappaport's decision would hold.