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'Of Greater Value than the Gold of Our Mountains': The Right to Education in Colorado’s Nineteenth-Century Constitution

64 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2012  

Tom Romero II

University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Date Written: June 11, 2012

Abstract

As the contemporary battle for educational opportunity has moved to state courts, the education clauses of a state’s constitution have played prominent roles in the litigation. Of particular concern has been the role that history should play in interpreting the scope and meaning of various provisions of a clause. This Article advances this debate by examining the development of article IX (the education clause) in Colorado’s 1876 “Centennial” Constitution. The Article first details the efforts to provide free public education in the United States in the decades leading to the drafting of the Colorado state constitution in 1876. Colorado, as part of a nationwide movement to ensure public education as a state constitutional right, reflected a much larger conversation over the scope and meaning of education to citizenship and civic engagement, economic opportunity, public versus private right, and, in some cases, civil rights.

The Article accordingly turns to how these issues emerged quite pointedly in Colorado: from the discovery of Gold on the banks of the Platte River and the opening of the first schoolhouse in 1859, to its formation as a territory and the subsequent passage of a comprehensive School Law in 1861, to internal and external debates over the education clause that eventually came to be drafted and adopted by the Framers to the state’s constitution. While Colorado’s pioneer legal and constitutional makers struggled to reconcile competing visions over the precise role that a statewide system of education should play, they nevertheless were in agreement that it be “thorough and uniform” for all of the state’s students now and into the future. As the final part of the Article documents, however, it was readily apparent that systemic and structural inequities were already dividing the state’s emerging school districts in the immediate years after statehood. Part of a much larger nineteenth-century commitment to public education, Colorado’s early legal experiences reflected the hopes, aspirations, and maddening limits of a substantive and meaningful constitutional right to education that would be available for all of its habitants.

Keywords: education law, constitutional law, legal history

Suggested Citation

Romero, Tom, 'Of Greater Value than the Gold of Our Mountains': The Right to Education in Colorado’s Nineteenth-Century Constitution (June 11, 2012). University of Colorado Law Review, Vol. 83, p. 781, 2012; U Denver Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12-19. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2082361

Tom Romero II (Contact Author)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208
United States

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