Since 2005, Lobato v. State of Colorado, a school funding case, has been winding its way through the Colorado court system. Last Friday, Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, a group of school districts and parents, who sued the state claiming that its school-funding system was unconstitutional.
Rappaport, in her 183-page ruling, agreed, writing that the system “is not rationally related to the [Colorado Constitution’s] mandate to establish and maintain a thorough and uniform system of free public schools.” She indicated increased funding would be required.
“The ruling is a win for the children of Colorado,” says Kenzo Kawanabe, a civil rights litigator at Davis Graham & Stubbs, who worked on the case pro bono, alongside attorneys from Children’s Voices. Kawanabe managed a team of more than 20 attorneys, and served as a primary counsel, delivering opening and closing arguments, in the five-week trial.
“[Some] schools are using textbooks, 10, 20, even 30 years old. [If] textbooks still have Bill Clinton as our president and the Soviet Union still exists on our globes, that is not an adequate education,” says Kawanabe, who tries take at least one pro bono case a year. (See: “Defending Goliath,” Colorado Super Lawyers, 2010.) “If we don’t educate our children about how wonderful our system is, how our representative democracy works, how our judicial system works, that system will fail. Education ensures our society will continue to succeed, not only on an economic and social level, but from a basic constitutional republic representative-democracy level.”
Kawanabe’s firm donated more than a million dollars worth of time to the case, which included 180 depositions and 80 trial witnesses.
The plaintiffs did not seek monetary damages but injunctive and declaratory relief.
The case presumably isn’t over. “I anticipate that the state will appeal,” Kawanabe says. “But I hope that it does not and instead focuses its efforts on fixing a broken system.”