Who Is In Charge

All sides hustle to tell Lobato stories

The three parties in the Lobato v. State school finance lawsuit have been scrambling to tell their stories ahead of Monday’s start of the trial, which promises to be a wonkish five weeks of expert testimony on funding, achievement stats, research studies and other fine points.

Kathleen Gebhardt
Lobato case lawyer Kathleen Gebhardt is interviewed by a TV news crew.

Children’s Voices, the non-profit law firm representing most of the plaintiffs, closed the pretrial festivities Sunday morning with an event on the Capitol’s west steps, Colorado’s traditional site for rallies, protests and political announcement.

Defendant Gov. John Hickenlooper and his lawyer, Attorney General John Suthers, got the jump on those media outreach efforts Thursday with a news conference in the governor’s wood-paneled office.

Lawyers for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund went before the cameras Friday morning under the trees outside the Department of Education on East Colfax Avenue to tell their side of the story.

In between events, participants in the case made the rounds of newsrooms and meeting rooms to talk about the case.

The Children’s Voices event on Sunday featured a “human graph” of schoolchildren standing up and down the Capitol steps to illustrate school funding trends, using a long black ribbon to represent national per pupil spending over a several years and a red ribbon going down the steps to represent Colorado stats.

Capitol rally
Parent Theresa Wrangham (lower right) speaks while children hold ribbons illustratrating national (black) and Colorado (red) school spending trends.

Lawyer Kathleen Gebhardt, arguing the need for the suit, said, “The state continues to ask people to do more with less and less. … Our kids can’t wait.”

Theresa Wrangham, a Boulder Valley parent and plaintiff in the case, called the state’s school finance system “completely detached from the needs of children.”

Superintendents from the state’s largest district and one of its smallest also argued that Colorado schools need more financial support. Noting all the education reform legislation of recent years, Jeffco’s Cindy Stevenson said, “Now we’re asking the state to step up to the constitutional requirements” for thorough and uniform education.

George Welsh of the Center School District in the San Luis Valley said, “Our education finance system is broken.” He noted that in his community a $13,000-a-year paraprofessional position “is considered a good job.”

Children’s Voices has hired Mark Stevens, former communication director for CDE and for the Denver and Greeley districts, to coordinate media relations for the trial. The group has a website and is starting to post Tweets about the case.

Attorney General John Suthers and Gov. John Hickenlooper
Attorney General John Suthers and Gov. John Hickenlooper

On Thursday Hickenlooper and Suthers did their best to argue that a plaintiffs’ victory would lead to an unacceptable squeeze on the state budget and would decimate other state programs. “If we lost this decision the consequences would be devastating,” he said.

“But when I step back and look at the [budget] reality we face,” forced spending on education “is incorrect.”

Hickenlooper tried to show his sympathy for the plaintiffs, saying, “I feel very strongly in some ways as the plaintiffs do” and “I’m not fighting against more funding for education.”

Previewing an argument the state is expected to make in the courtroom, Suthers said increased spending doesn’t necessarily “advance the quality” of education.

Both men argued that it’s not the role of the courts to dictate school funding. “It’s up to the people and the legislature to decide what to do about it,” said Suthers.

The plaintiffs’ case centers on the question of whether the state’s current school funding system meets the state constitutional requirement for a “thorough and uniform” education system.

Suthers referred to the constitutional clause as “this 1876 phrase” and asked “What applicability does that have in 2011?”

The attorney general said, “Our job is to make her [Judge Sheila Rappaport] feel very uncomfortable” about the consequences of a ruling for the plaintiffs. “Either way it’s going back to the Colorado Supreme Court.

MALDEF news conference speakers
MALDEF lawyer David Hinojosa (at podium) speaks during a July 29, 2011, news conference. At left is Lobato case plaintiff Mirabel Payan and daughter Gracie. At right is lawyer Marisa Bono.

On Friday, MALDEF lawyer David Hinojosa made the argument that Colorado’s school funding system creates special problems for students who are low income and English language learners.

“All children can succeed if given sufficient educational opportunity,” he said, but schools are stretched too thin to ensure that outcome and are forced “to rob Pablo to pay Paul. … They shouldn’t have to make those tough choices.”

The MALDEF team is representing parents in four high-poverty districts – Greeley, Mapleton, Rocky Ford and Sheridan – and in its case will argue that the current system doesn’t provide enough funding for English language learners, the full range of at-risk students and preschoolers and also doesn’t provide enough facilities funding to ensure all children have safe and healthy schools.

As to Hickenlooper’s and Suthers’ fears, Hinojosa said, “The sky’s not going to fall” if the plaintiffs win their case.

Hinojosa appeared with lawyer Marisa Bono and Sheridan parent Maribel Payan, who read rapidly from a prepared statement in Spanish. Daughter Gracie, a seventh grader, spoke briefly in English but was clearly nervous about being in front of the cameras.

EdNews preview of the trial


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”