State Lawsuit Could Damage Pre-School Education in Conn.

This week Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Attorney General George Jepsen will receive hand-delivered letters from a group of early childhood education advocates urging the state to withdraw its motion in a school-funding lawsuit, writes Kathleen Megan at the Hartford Courant.

The letters written by the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance and signed by 80 organizations and 75 individuals, say that the motion, filed in September, “would deny all children below kindergarten age their constitutional rights to an adequate and equitable education.”

The plaintiff children “represent the plight of children ages 3 to 18 in public school districts across the state who are not receiving the suitable and substantially equal educational opportunities guaranteed them under the Connecticut constitution,” according to a summary of the lawsuit.

The state contends that the “plaintiffs can make no legitimate claim that preschool services are part of the state constitutional right at issue in this case.”

Elizabeth Donahue, the governor’s policy director, said that for years Malloy “has made early childhood education a top priority. From providing universal pre-K access in Stamford to his strong leadership on Connecticut’s Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant application this past fall, the governor’s commitment has been clear.”

Maggie Adair, executive director of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance, said of the state’s motion:

“We don’t believe that this is an indication that the governor is stepping back on his commitment to early childhood education, but we have to look at the long-term ramifications. We won’t have Malloy around for the next 20 years.”

Attorney General  Jepsen said that his office has not questioned “the potential benefits of pre-school education or the wisdom of providing such services to Connecticut children as a matter of public policy.”

“Rather, we have filed a motion asking the Court to decide — as a legal, not policy matter — whether the Connecticut constitution’s guarantee of ‘free public elementary and secondary schools’ was intended to encompass pre-school services.”

Adair said, “The attorney general’s office is doing its job by trying to narrow the exposure of the state, but I will argue that by doing that — limiting pre-school — it will cost far more money in the long run, if you don’t invest in the early years.”

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, a longtime advocate of early childhood education, said Malloy and Jepsen are in “a really hard position.”

While they support pre-school education as a policy matter, “here, they are speaking particularly to defending the state in this case.”