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Lobato case will see appeals court

Posted: Tuesday, Jan 24th, 2012

VALLEY — Colorado Attorney General John Suthers on Monday officially filed the state’s notice of appeal in the landmark educational case Lobato v. State, which originated with San Luis Valley residents and school districts.

The governor and state board of education had already indicated they would be appealing the December decision in favor of the plaintiffs, and on Monday Suthers officially filed the notice of appeal on behalf of the state, Colorado Board of Education, Commissioner of Education Robert Hammond and Governor John Hickenlooper.

Plaintiffs included Center residents Anthony and Denise Lobato, for whom the case was named, whose children Taylor and Alexa were students in the center school district when the case originated several years ago.

The case went to trial last summer, and Judge Sheila Rappaport issued a decision in December agreeing with the plaintiffs that the state school finance system was unconstitutional in that it did not provide for a thorough and uniform system of free public education and guarantee local control. The court mandated the state to fix the problem but stayed its order until the end of the 2012 legislative session or until a decision was rendered on appeal, given an appeal would be filed.

In its notice of appeal filed Monday, the AG’s office listed the court orders being appealed, specifically court orders: denying the state’s request to examine former legislator Norma Anderson regarding the drafting of the 1994 Public School Finance Act; striking three of the defendants’ affirmative defenses to the complaint; denying several requests for determination of questions of law; and granting plaintiffs’ motion excluding evidence of non-education appropriations and TABOR provisions.

The state’s appeal raises issues revolving around those court rulings and questions whether the district court erred and applied incorrect legal standards in declaring the state public school finance system unconstitutional and mandating that the state adopt and fund a thorough and uniform system of free public schools in compliance with the requirements of the local control clause.

Following the filing on Monday, plaintiffs’ spokespersons responded with statements that they hoped the process would move forward in a timely manner.

Great Education Colorado, for example, stated: “Now that the appeal is filed, we hope and trust that the parties will expedite the process as much as possible. Colorado’s students don’t get do-overs. For them, justice delayed is education denied...

“In light of the Lobato decision and the damage that a fourth year of deep education cuts will do to Colorado’s students, to our constitution, and to jobs and our economic recovery, the legislature should waste no time in working to honor our students’ right to a thorough and uniform education system.”

Kathy Gebhardt, one of the lead attorneys on behalf of Lobato, said, “All of the state’s bases for appeal are technical arguments that do not speak to whether students are getting a constitutionally adequate education.”

She said she believed the judge’s ruling was overwhelming and it was unfortunate the state “will further delay a constitutionally required education for the children of Colorado.”

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