What does it cost to teach English to an immigrant child in the United States?
A state district court in Colorado may not have an exact amount, but it knows how much is not enough. That was the court’s determination in the Lobato vs. Colorado lawsuit that sought adequate funding for English language learners in that state.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) served as plaintiff-intervenors, representing a group of parents who brought the suit. According to a MALDEF press release:
In a 189-page, scathing decision following a five-week trial in August of 2011, the court held that “the Colorado public school finance system is not rationally related to the mandate to establish and maintain a thorough and uniform system of free public schools. On the contrary, the public school finance system is irrational, arbitrary, and severely underfunded.”
So the court told the Colorado state legislature to go back and get it right; the money that they’re spending on at-risk English language learners is not enough to do the job. But the court didn’t stop there:
“the Colorado public school finance system is not rationally related to the mandate to establish and maintain a thorough and uniform system of free public schools. On the contrary, the public school finance system is irrational, arbitrary, and severely underfunded.”
The problem, as the court sees it, is that Colorado has undergone significant demographic changes, specifically in terms of children in poverty, ethnic minorities and English language learners. The state’s educational funding scheme has not kept up with the changes. The MALDEF release quotes the court statement:
“there is not enough money in the system to permit school districts across the State to properly implement standards-based education and to meet the requirements of state law and regulation. This is true for districts of every description – rural, suburban, urban and those with small or large student populations. There is not one school district that is sufficiently funded. This is an obvious hallmark of an irrational system.”
This is significant, because it forces the state of Colorado to reconfigure its education budget in a time of cutbacks and shortfalls. According to the Sunshine Review, a non-profit organization dedicated to state and local government transparency, the state’s education spending was set at $5.2 billion in 2011, and that doesn’t count the $7.8 billion total local school district expenditure. But the state also had a structural imbalance of $500 million. The sunshine Review reports:
Governor John Hickenlooper in November 2011 called for cuts to public schools and universities to help close the budget gap. Specifically, the governor would reduce funding to K-12 schools by $97 million, approximately $160 per student.
But in the end, in order to comply with Colorado’s balanced budget mandate, education for K-12 schools was slashed by $250 million.
David Hinojosa, MALDEF Southwest Regional Counsel, called the court’s decision courageous:
“We hope the General Assembly will see this as a wake-up call and live up to its responsibility under the Colorado Constitution by fully and fairly funding educational opportunity for all school children, including Colorado’s most vulnerable.”
[Photo By marxchivist]