Connecticut Ruling Could Mean Broad Changes for Schools

(Photo: Public Domain, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Public Domain, Creative Commons)

A ruling made this week by Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher of the State Superior Court in Hartford, Connecticut is receiving strong responses from across the political spectrum. The State of Connecticut said it would appeal the school funding case that ordered the state to overhaul the entire education system.

“There are strong arguments that the trial court exceeded its authority and the standards articulated by the Connecticut Supreme Court, and so today we are asking that court to review this ruling,” Attorney General George C. Jepsen said in a statement.

The long-running case accuses the state of “defaulting on its constitutional duty” to ensure that all students receive an adequate education. The judge said Connecticut was letting children in low-income districts fail while helping children in wealthy districts excel.

Judge Moukawsher has given the state 180 days to overhaul teacher evaluations and salaries, school funding policies, graduation requirements, and special education services, according to Elizabeth A. Harris of The New York Times.

Elected officials in low-income cities are enthusiastic about the decision, while many others, such as the state teachers union, were in disagreement. Connecticut Education Association President Sheila Cohen called the ruling “broad and overreaching.”

Those who support people with disabilities were upset by certain portions of the judgment. The decision seemed to suggest that some students could be too ill for educational services, while appearing to be encourage more impartial access to services.

Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities Managing Attorney Nancy B. Alisberg said she was concerned that schools might decide that a child is too limited and then announce that they did not have to provide this child with anything:

Ms. Alisberg added, “I think it boils down to a belief on the part of the court that there are certain students who, based on the level of their disability, don’t deserve an education.”

Daniela Altimari writes for the Hartford Courant that Judge Moukawsher called the current method “arbitrary and irrational” and added that poor children were being shortchanged.

The legal battle between Connecticut and the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) has been going on for 11 years. The CCJEF is a coalition of boards of education, municipalities, teachers unions, and education advocacy groups. The alliance filed a suit against then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell that alleged the state’s cost-sharing education funding scheme violated the state constitution and placed an unjust imposition on local property taxes to maintain school spending.

Jim Finley, the principal attorney for the CCJEF, said the group was huddling with legal advisers. Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy emphasized that he understood the ruling and agrees that there is an urgent need to fix the problems in the state’s educational methods.

According to the Associated Press’ Dave Collins, Moukawsher’s order also states that officials must submit plans to update the state’s formula for distributing education aid to districts and schools, develop a statewide high school graduation standard, and assess eighth-graders to determine their readiness for high school.

The latest standardized tests showed that 70% of students in third grade who lived in the least wealthy towns did not meet grade-level goals in reading, but 70% of children in affluent towns did meet those targets.

High school tests showed that kids in the wealthiest cities scored at the advanced level in math and almost the same in reading. One out of three youths in poor districts did not meet the fundamental ratings in math and did slightly better than that in reading.

Connecticut is one of the wealthiest states in the country, yet it is scarred by inequality, writes Joseph Dussault of The Christian Science Monitor.

“The odds are really stacked against you if you grow up in a poor district,” Sean Reardon, an education professor at Stanford University who studies poverty and inequality, told the Monitor.

Malloy pointed out that the state does not have to wait for a legal outcome before it begins to improve the education students, especially low-income children, are receiving in Connecticut.