The General Assembly

  • The General Assembly is the state legislature of the state of Colorado and is charged with maintaining a “thorough and uniform” system of education. It is comprised of 65 people elected to serve in the House of Representatives and 35 people elected to serve in the Senate. The legislative bodies in Colorado function in much the same manner as do the House and Senate of the federal government.

    The Colorado House and Senate both have standing committees on education that review proposed legislation pertaining to education. Proposed bills must be “voted out of committee” before the respective bodies may consider them. Education bills introduced in the House must pass through the House Education Committee and the Appropriations Committee (if there is a fiscal impact) and then be approved by the House of Representatives. The bills then go to the Senate, where the process is repeated. Bills introduced in the Senate follow a similar pattern except that they are considered first by the Senate, then the House. Bills approved by the House and Senate are then sent to the governor and, when signed by the governor, become law.

    The same Lobato decision that discussed the local control constitutional provision also explained the General Assembly’s “thorough and uniform” constitutional obligation upholding the state’s school finance system. The Colorado Supreme Court rejected the argument brought by school districts and students alleging that the state was failing to meet the constitutional mandate to provide a “thorough and uniform” system of education.

    Initially, the Supreme Court held (in Lobato I) that “thorough and uniform” had been defined by the legislature through a comprehensive set of school laws, including CAP4K (SB 08-212), the Education Accountability Act of 2009 (SB 09-163) and the educator effectiveness legislation (SB 10-191). In fact, the Lobato I order specifically stated, “The trial court [which would hear all the evidence of the case firsthand] may appropriately rely on the legislature’s own pronouncements to develop the meaning of a thorough and uniform system of education.” Citing Lobato I, the trial court ruled, “There was no effort to analyze the relationship to the actual costs [of state education laws] to provide an education of any particular quality. The failure to do any cost analysis and to provide for funding based on such an analysis demonstrates the irrationality of the existing school finance system.”

    The state appealed the trial court’s decision to the Supreme Court, which had recently experienced a change in the membership of the court. Rather than following the Lobato I court’s guidance or the trial court’s conclusion based on that guidance, the Lobato II court went to Webster’s dictionary to define a “thorough and uniform” system of education as one “of a quality marked by completeness, is comprehensive, and is consistent across the state.” Having articulated a constitutional test that does not require taking into account the education system that the school finance system is intended to fund, the Lobato II decision makes no mention of the Colorado Constitution’s legislative history, the trial court’s 178-page order or the record created over five weeks of trial. The court concludes in a succinct five paragraphs that Colorado use of a uniform basic school formula satisfies the constitution’s thorough and uniform provision.

    The Lobato case serves as a reminder that litigation is never a sure bet, no matter how good the case or the cause may be.

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