Connecticut Education Funding Unconstitutional, Judge Rules

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

A judge has ordered Connecticut officials to develop plans that will overhaul the public education system currently in use in the state within the next six months after determining that a gap in test scores between students in wealthy and low-income towns show portions of the system to be unconstitutional and irrational.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher has ordered the state to submit reform plans to the court that will change the way education aid is distributed to cities and towns.  Other reforms will create a statewide high school graduation standard, require eight-graders to prove they have gained the skills necessary to progress to high school, and replace the current teacher evaluation and compensation system used throughout the state, which Moukawsher considers to be irrational and weak.

“Beyond a reasonable doubt, Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty to provide adequate public school opportunities because it has no rational, substantial and verifiable plan to distribute money for education aid and school construction,” Moukawsher said.

The ruling was handed down with an 11-year-old lawsuit that had been filed against the state by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding.  The nonprofit group includes cities, towns, local boards of education, and public school students, writes Daniela Altimari for The Hartford Courant.

The coalition has argued that the state does not offer enough education funding to cities and towns, nor is it meeting its constitutional obligation to ensure that all students receive a high-quality education.  It states that large differences in test scores and varying graduation rates, among other factors, between rich and poor districts prove that the funding system is not fair.

Recent standardized testing shows over 70% of students in the wealthy districts have met third-grade reading goals.  At the same time, close to 70% of students in low-income districts have not.  Concerning high school exams, the majority of children in high-income areas received advanced scores in math and close to the same in reading, while one out of three students in poorer areas throughout the state did not reach basic levels in math, and only did slightly better in reading.

The state is required to submit its plans within the next 180 days.

It is unclear if the state Attorney General’s office plans to appeal the ruling.  According to a spokesperson for the office, state officials are currently considering the possibility.

“This decision by Judge Moukawsher is a game changer for our children,” Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim said. “This ruling is a detailed, thorough indictment of how the state fails to provide an adequate education in Bridgeport and other poor school districts in Connecticut.”

In a statement, Governor Dannel P. Malloy said that the state has put hundreds of millions of dollars into education since he first took office in 2011.  A large portion of that, he said, has gone toward the neediest students.  In all, the state offers around $2 billion to cities and towns each year in basic education aid and an additional $1 billion for school construction.

“We welcome the conversation this decision brings,” the governor said. “We know that to improve outcomes for all Connecticut students and to close persistent achievement gaps, we need to challenge the status quo and take bold action.”