The public schools enroll 877,000 students: 55% White, 33% Latino, and 5% African American, with 42% in living poverty and 12% learning English. The State spends $8,693 per pupil. (Most recent NCES data)
“The general assembly shall, as soon as practicable, provide for the establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state, wherein all residents of the state, between the ages of six and twenty-one years, may be educated gratuitously.” Colo. Const. art. IX, § 2.
“The general assembly shall, by law, provide for organization of school districts of convenient size, in each of which shall be established a board of education, to consist of three or more directors to be elected by the qualified electors of the district. Said directors shall have control of instruction in the public schools of their respective districts.” Colo. Const. art. IX, §15. This is the Colorado Constituion’s local control requirement.
“Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation, or pay from any public fund or moneys whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian society, or for any sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever….” Colo. Const. art. IX, § 7.
Colorado has also amended its constitution to provide that State funding for public education from preschool through the twelfth grade must grow annually by at least one percent over the rate of inflation. Colo. Const. art. IX, § 17.
In 1982, in Lujan v. Colorado Board of Education, the Colorado Supreme Court wrote, “We find that Article IX, Section 2 of the Colorado Constitution is satisfied if thorough and uniform educational opportunities are available through state action in each school district [and] does not require that educational expenditures per pupil in every school district be identical.”
In 2000, in Giardino v. Colorado Board of Educ., plaintiffs charged that deteriorating school facilities in some districts violated the constitutional guarantee of a “thorough and uniform system of free public schools,” and the trial court approved a settlement in which the State committed $190 million to fund school repair and construction in the neediest districts.
In 2005, plaintiffs in Lobato v. State alleged that: (1) the State’s school funding system violated the “thorough and uniform” clause because it underfunded education and distributed funds in an irrational and arbitrary manner; and (2) the State was violating the constitution’s requirement for local control of education, that is Article IX, §15. The Colorado Supreme Court, in a 2013 decision that ignored the facts proven at trial, ruled against plaintiffs. In the same decision, the Court rejected the State’s argument that the case was non-justiciable.
In 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down a voucher program in Taxpayers for Public Education v. Douglas County School District, concluding that the school district’s program violated the State constitution’s provision against public money going to schools “controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever.” The Court wrote that “this stark constitutional provision makes one thing clear: A school district may not aid religious schools.”
Education Law Center filed an amicus brief with the Colorado Supreme Court in this case, arguing that the voucher program “channels public money to wealthy, high-achieving students to subsidize their religious education.”