On December 4, 2013 the trial court in Connecticut Coalition for
Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell denied the State's
Motion to Dismiss, which claimed the case lacked ripeness, was moot, and
the plaintiffs lacked standing. The court cited recent New York court decisions,
in Hussein (now Maisto) v. State, on the same issues.
Trial is set to begin in July 2014.
In what appears to be a new trend, states are filing ripeness and mootness
claims in an apparent effort to delay trials. On the basis of minor or even
adverse legislative changes to their state school funding systems, Connecticut
and New York claimed their funding systems were so different from the systems
challenged in plaintiffs' complaints, in CCJEF and in Maisto,
that those cases were rendered moot. Furthermore, these states argued that
their "new" funding systems would need several years to show their impact,
thus making the cases unripe for trial.
Judge Kevin Dubay's CCJEF opinion clearly
explains that a trial on the merits is necessary to develop a full factual
evidentiary record, including resolution of any
issues of mootness or ripeness. In New York, the Appellate Division, which
was later affirmed by the state's highest court, held that the Hussein/Maisto case
was ripe and not moot and remanded that case for trial.
Judge Dubay also distinguished school funding cases in other states that the
CT Attorney General (AG) cited in support of the State's Motion to Dismiss.
The AG claimed that "comprehensive reforms" enacted in 2012 rendered the case
moot and that the case was not yet ripe because the "reforms" have not had
enough time to "take hold." The AG drew analogies with cases in MA (Hancock
v. Driscoll), MT (Columbia Falls v. State), and WY (Campbell
v. State), where the courts had ended school funding cases.
However, the courts in these states conducted full trials on the merits, and
plaintiffs won. The supreme courts in these states affirmed plaintiffs' victories
and declared the school funding systems unconstitutional. In response to the
courts' rulings, these states' legislative and executive branches enacted and
implemented statewide remedies. Only after this series of events did the courts
find that those cases were resolved.
As Judge Dubay's opinion explains, the reforms in question in those cases
were enacted in direct response to the high courts' decisions, and the courts
were not addressing the issues of ripeness or mootness in the manner the State
was addressing them in its motion to dismiss CCJEF. Judge Dubay found
that the effect of the 2012 legislation on the constitutionality of Connecticut's
education system was an issue of fact that would need to be determined by the
evidence at trial.
In its original 2005 complaint, the CCJEF plaintiffs
alleged that Connecticut schoolchildren were being denied suitable and substantially
equal educational opportunities due to the State's flawed school funding system
and in violation of the state constitution. Considering a motion to dismiss,
the trial court found that the Connecticut Constitution did not create a right
to a "suitable" educational opportunity and dismissed most of the complaint,
in 2007. Only the "equal educational opportunities" claim remained.
In 2010, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the trial court's opinion,
concluding that the constitution gives all Connecticut schoolchildren the right
to a suitable education and requires the State to ensure adequate educational
standards and resources to prepare students for participation in democratic
institutions as well as employment and/or higher education. The high court
remanded the case, instructing the trial court to determine whether the standards
and resources for public education in Connecticut are adequate.
The parties began to prepare for a July 2014 trial date.
However, in early 2013, the State filed another Motion to Dismiss, claiming
that "comprehensive reforms" enacted in 2012 rendered the case moot and that
the case is not yet ripe because the "reforms" have not had enough time to "take
hold." Plaintiffs filed a reply brief in opposition, noting that the 2012
changes were "nominal."
The state was also unsuccessful in asking the court to suspend discovery while
it considered the motion to dismiss.
CCJEF is a statewide
coalition of municipalities, local boards of education, statewide professional
education associations, unions, other pro-education advocacy organizations,
parents, public schoolchildren aged 18 or older, and other concerned Connecticut