Textbooks in Public Schools

Occasionally, constituents will contact members of the General Assembly to demand that the state legislature pass a law to ban a certain textbook from use in Colorado public schools. At the same time, other constituents might demand that the state legislature pass a law requiring the use of the very same textbook in public schools. Here in Colorado, neither of those perspectives has merit. Why?

Since statehood, Article IX, Section 16 of the Colorado Constitution has stated, Textbooks in public schools. Neither the general assembly nor the state board of education shall have power to prescribe textbooks to be used in the public schools.” The people of Colorado specifically withheld that power from their elected state legislators and the elected members of the state board of education. Why?

Colorado became a US Territory by an act of Congress in February 1861. On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as the 16th president of the United States. Thirty-nine days later, the American Civil War began. Following the Civil War, which ended on May 26, 1865, an increasing number of people started to move west. Examples of who those people were and what motivated them are taught with excellence in the later episodes of the video series “The West” presented by filmmaker Ken Burns.

Generally, people who settled in the Colorado Territory during the decade following the Civil War and leading up to statehood in 1876, wanted to have a greater say in how their communities would be governed. Rather than top-down, centralized control, they generally wanted local control.

On March 3, 1875, an Enabling Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S, Grant, allowed the people of Colorado to form a constitution and state government. On October 25, 1875, the people of Colorado elected delegates to a constitutional convention. On December 20, 1875, those delegates assembled. Then, on March 14, 1876, the final draft of the original Colorado Constitution was completed and signed.

On August 1, 1876, President Grant signed a Proclamation admitting Colorado to the Union as the 38th State. At that moment, the original Colorado Constitution went into effect and Article IX, Section 15 that constitution delegated control of instruction in public schools to each, locally elected, school board. That is an example of how local control was a premise for how government would function in Colorado.

States are different, based primarily on the unique constitution of each state. Someone who has moved to Colorado from some other state might find the premise of local control to be completely different from how government worked in their former state of residence. 

Here in Colorado, we have an elected State Board of Education. In other states, members of such a board might be appointed by the governor. In some states, the state legislature might be required or at least have the discretion to set teacher salaries on a statewide basis. Here in Colorado, each local school board has that power. And, here in Colorado, locally elected school board members have the power to decide which textbooks are used – or not used – in the public schools in their respective district, not state legislators.

It works that way in Colorado because that’s how the people of Colorado wanted it to work.

** The information provided herein is intended for general educational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have questions of a legal nature, please consult with an attorney.

** Civics Corner content was written with the help of former Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert.

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