Decade-Old Connecticut Education Funding Lawsuit Continues

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

A variety of advocates, some of whom were representing underperforming schools in Bridgeport and Danbury, Connecticut, gathered recently to attempt to convince a Superior Court judge to take drastic measures to change the ways in which the state funds and oversees education in the state.

"There are questions that need to be addressed by the court," Joseph Moodhe, an attorney representing the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) said. "What we are arguing here is for the court to find that the system is unconstitutional because it is inadequately funded and inequitably administered."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the educators, school districts, and parents of Connecticut and asked the court to find that the Connecticut education system had failed to follow the constitutional mandate to give equal education to all students. They also want lawmakers to come up with solutions, such as a funding mix, which is the funding that includes a combination of state and local money.

Also included in the lawsuit is the accusation that the state provides more money for schools in affluent districts than it does for poor school districts. The result of this inequality of funding is that underfunded urban systems are performing poorly, which the plaintiffs believe is patently unfair, writes Bill Cummings of the Connecticut Post.

The state contends that the case should be thrown out since prior reforms have already addressed many of the complaints. Lawyers for the state said that local school districts are distinct entities and are not controlled by the state. They claimed the state was supplying adequate funding for an education system that is equal for all students.

This lawsuit is a decade old, and this go-round has included 50 witnesses in 60 days' time. Moodhe is an attorney with the New York-based firm Debevoise & Plimpton that is part of the pro-bono legal team representing the plaintiffs. Originally, the suit, with assistance from Yale law students, was filed against former Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

Another complaint argues that preschool and support systems should be universal, not just available to students attending schools in wealthy districts.

David Desroches, reporting for WNPR, quote Moodhe:

"There are lots of students that are not graduating college or career ready, and the state acknowledges that."

Many students, continued Moodhe, have to take remedial classes because their high school education was inadequate. But the state points out that several programs created by lawmakers or the education department provide extra funding for low-income school districts. State officials also argued that education is not the only solution to all that is wrong with society today.

Moodhe admitted that the state had a point, but he countered by saying that education is a path to a cure for those problems. Even though Connecticut is considered to have one of the better public school systems in the nation, the plaintiffs say there is always more to do.

"The superintendents have fought to get additional funding, and almost without exception, have been disappointed," Moodhe said in court Monday.

He added that there is a gap in teacher quality as well. One reason is that poor districts must hire first-year teachers who have to accept less pay for working in the most difficult conditions.

Vanessa de la Torre, reporting for the Hartford Courant, writes that Judge Thomas Moukawsher, the presiding judge for the trial, said defining "adequate funding" was a slippery slope. If the court determines a constitutional minimum for education, the decision could take money away from other essential programs in the state.

"At what price to the other priorities in the state? … That's what bothers me," Moukawsher said.

No matter what the outcome, both sides in the case have announced they would appeal to the state Supreme Court for the final decision, according to Jacqueline Rabe Thomas of the Connecticut Mirror.

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