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School Funding Lawsuit Goes To Trial

See below for Hartford Courant story on commencement of the CCJEF v. Rell trial.

Here is statement presented by CCM is response to the news:

“CCM supports the case, realizing ECS alone is underfunded by over $600 million. A high quality public education is the key to the State’s prosperity and ensuring that people realize their potential. This case is a positive step in that direction.”

Hartford Courant, January 11, 2016

By Kathleen Megan

After 10 years and many delays, including a trip to the Connecticut Supreme Court, a lawsuit claiming that public education in Connecticut is inadequate for many children because of a broken, unfair system of state funding will finally go to trial on Tuesday in Hartford Superior Court. Filed by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding against then Gov. Jodi Rell in Nov. 2005, the suit could ultimately transform the way education in Connecticut is funded for the better.

The state contends that the Connecticut public school system is adequate and raises concern that if successful, the case could prove very costly. In court documents, the Coalition which includes 16 families and their children as named plaintiffs in the suit, argue that the state has created an "educational underclass" because "the level of resources provided by the state's education funding scheme is arbitrary and not related to the actual costs of .. a suitable education.'

Jim Finley, a principal consultant for the coalition said, "What's at issue is whether students and districts are getting the resources they need to ensure that every student regardless of where they live has an equal opportunity to get an adequate and equitable education." The plaintiffs contend that the state's education funding system is "unconstitutional" because it does not ensure that all districts have sufficient resources to provide all school children "with suitable and substantially equal educational opportunities."

Jaclyn M. Falkowski, spokeswoman for the state attorney general, said in an email, "We think the evidence in court will show that the state is meeting its constitutional responsibilities." She said the state has "one of the best-funded and most effective public education systems in the United States," noting that "the current administration has targeted both substantial additional money and strong programs of administrative support towards the lowest performing schools." "It is our statutory obligation to ensure that the state and its taxpayers are fully and fairly defended in this case," Falkowski said, "and that is our focus as we prepare for trial." She said the coalition has argued "that a dramatic increase in taxpayer funding – to the tune, potentially, of over $2 billion in state education spending each year – is necessary to meet a constitutional guarantee of adequate, free public elementary and secondary schools."

Finley said, however, the coalition does not have a formal position on what the "remedy" for their complaint might look like. The focus of the case, at this point, is on whether Connecticut school children are getting an education that meets the standards of Connecticut's constitution, said David Rosen, of New Haven, who is lead Connecticut counsel. "And if the judge decides that they aren't, the next question is going to be how to repair the problem," Rosen said. Long Path To Trial In 2007, the state sought the dismissal of the suit, claiming that while the Connecticut constitution guaranteed a right to a public education, it did not specify that that education needed to be adequate.

The state won in Superior Court in 2007, when a judge ruled that the court could not address the suit because the state constitution does not require certain standards of quality for public education. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the right to a public education implies an adequate education. In March 2010, the a divided state Supreme Court reversed the lower court decision, ruling that the Connecticut Constitution guarantees students not just any education, but one that can prepare them for employment, higher education and civic responsibilities like voting and jury duty. The Supreme Court sent the case back to Superior Court for a trial to decide whether Connecticut students are indeed getting a suitable education. Judge Thomas Moukawsher is presiding over the case.

Many supporters of case say it is as pivotal as the state Supreme Court decisions in Horton vs. Meskill in 1977 that established the right of Connecticut students to a substantially equal education and as the Sheff v. O'Neill case ruling in 1996 that ordered the state to desegregate Hartford's public schools.. "It is hugely significant," said Joseph Cirasuolo, who executive director of the Connecticut Association for Public School Superintendents and a member of the coalition.. "Right now, we do not have a funding system that is based on providing the money for every child in the state of Connecticut to get an adequate education in the public school system."

Jeffrey Villar, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Education Reform, said he expects a difficulty in the case will be determining if funding is "adequate and equitable." He said it could be that there are districts with an adequate level of funding that have not made the systemic changes necessary to meet student need. "We need to be careful not to fall into the trap of over-simplifying and accepting the concept that improving educational outcomes for students is all about adding more resources," he said.

The Coalition counts among its members, representatives of towns, school boards, teachers unions and school administrators, including, originally, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who joined the fight when he was mayor of Stamford. Malloy is now a defendant in the CCJEF case, which was filed while Gov. Jodi Rell was governor. An Arbitrary Funding Formula? In a recent court filing, the coalition said that the educational opportunities in "high-poverty districts — including Bridgeport, Danbury, East Hartford, New Britain, New London and Windham — "are significantly unequal and inequitable when compared to students in wealthier lower-poverty districts."

With insufficient funding, the plaintiffs say, poorer districts tend to have higher class sizes, fewer support staff, fewer experienced teachers, fewer enrichment classes, and less access to technology than their wealthier counterparts. The court document also said that that disadvantaged subgroups of students — including racial minorities, students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency — don't get the "critical educational resources" needed to go on to a productive life. The plaintiffs contend that the state's system of funding education — through the Education Cost Sharing grants — is based on a formula "that is arbitrary, is not the result of a rational design process, and is not based on the actual cost to educate students in Connecticut."

As evidence of the unequal system, the plaintiffs cite poor test scores and low graduation rates in troubled districts compared to wealthier ones. The state counters that Connecticut ranks in a top handful of states for per pupil spending and has teachers' salaries that are at the very top in the nation. The state also argues that Connecticut's Education Cost Sharing system provides the most state support to the poorest districts, the least to the wealthiest, and has "poured well over an additional $400 million into the lowest performing districts in the last three fiscal years." While the reforms have not been in effect long enough to produce "definitive results," the states say, "they are aggressive well-thought out best practices" aimed at bringing major improvement to low-performing districts.

The state also argues that there is no relationship in CT between per pupil spending and either student achievement or growth in student achievement. The state's education system is working to "level the playing field," the state said, "but they cannot be held accountable for eliminating ALL [sic] of the effects of poverty and other factors beyond their control."

"Just as the Declaration of Independence guaranteed the pursuit of happiness and not happiness itself," the state said, "the Connecticut Constitution guarantees each public school student a constitutional educational opportunity and not a particular outcome of education, such as a guaranteed test score or college admission."

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