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DECLARES CONNECTICUT EDUCATION SYSTEM VIOLATES STATE CONSTITUTION
On September 7, Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawser issued his post-trial
decision, in Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education
Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell, finding that the state was not fulfilling
its duty under the state constitution to provide children with a fair opportunity
for a high school education, and ordering the state to submit remedial proposals
within 180 days.
The court articulated a constitutional standard that requires
the state to provide funding and resources to meet student need.
The court wrote that "the state must at least deploy in its schools
resources and standards" substantially rational and connected to
teaching children and "things known to meet children's needs."
The court concluded that many of the state's education policies
are irrational. "For instance," the court observed,
the state spends billions of dollars on schools without any
binding principle guaranteeing that education aid goes where
it's needed. During the recent budget crisis, this left rich
schools robbing millions of dollars from poor schools. ... Instead
of the state honoring its promise of adequate schools, [it] has
left rich school districts to flourish and poor school districts
to flounder ... [and] the system cannot work unless the state
sticks to an honest formula that delivers funding according to
Despite these statements, however, the court articulated and followed "a
low constitutional threshold," based on its understanding of the
plurality plus one (4-3) CCJEF remand
order from the Connecticut Supreme Court. But,
the court appears to have missed much of the supreme court's instruction
and failed to fulfill its expectation that the trial court would
flesh out the resources needed to meet the supreme court's broad
constitutional resource standards.
The supreme court also wrote that the trial needed "to determine
as a question of fact whether the state's educational resources
and standards have ... provided the public school students in this
case with constitutionally suitable educational opportunities." Moreover,
the supreme court cited repeatedly to sister state courts, especially
New York, that had accomplished these goals as trial court guidance,
which the court does not seem to have followed.
At trial, the CCJEF plaintiffs presented
overwhelming evidence of severe resource deficiencies of inputs,
such as: academic and social intervention for at-risk students
and students with special needs; guidance counselors, nurses, programs
to teach English Language Learners, music, art and other subjects;
and reasonable class size, among others.
The trial court concluded that the "evidence certainly shows that
thousands of Connecticut students would benefit from" programs
addressing their needs. However, the court held that "the very
existence" of some of these programs, no matter their limited funding
and availability, means the state exceeds the "bare constitutional
Separately, the court dismissed the State's claim that local school
districts bore the responsibility for education, not the state.
The court quoted Connecticut Supreme Court holdings: "Obviously,
the furnishing of education for the general public is a state function
and duty," and " ... in Connecticut, education is a fundamental
right," raising education to the most important level known to
Bridgeport and other poor towns
The court used Bridgeport as an example of the concentrated poverty
and educational deprivations in Connecticut's 30 low-wealth towns.
The court's recitation of the challenges in Bridgeport is chilling.
Unemployment is high, incomes are low, the property tax rate is
double that of most nearby towns, and all 21,500 students are eligible
for free lunch. The schools have less than the statewide median
per pupil funding to spend on their high-need students. The court
Administrators, clerks, guidance counselors and technicians
are being shed. Kindergarten and special education paraprofessionals
are being let go. Some schools have no extras [sic] like music
and athletics left to cut. The school year is to be shortened.
Class sizes are increasing in many places to 29 children per
room -- rooms where teachers might have a class with one third
requiring special education, many ... speaking limited English,
and almost all ... working considerably below grade level.
Unsurprisingly, the court found that educational outcomes follow
deprivation. No state's low-wealth students score lower than Connecticut's.
Ten are at the same low level, and 40 state's poor students score
higher, "including," the court wrote, "children in places like
Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana."
The court reported that "while plaintiffs were in court complaining
of the lack of a principled [funding] system, the legislature started
moving money from poor towns to rich ones." In May 2016, the state
cut $5 million from its poorest town's education funding and sent
it to relatively wealthy towns. The state told the court that "$5
million isn't much money," but the court declared that "there are
no millions to be diverted in the face of financial circumstances
that are choking Connecticut towns to death."
After this jarring report, the court ordered the state to submit
within 180 days a remedial school funding formula that "must apply
educationally-based principles to allocate funds in light of the
special circumstances of the state's poorest communities." But,
the court did not order essential resources and programs for these
towns' thousands of students, even though the state has the duty
to provide them a fair opportunity for a high school education.
Will the remedial order lead to fair funding and essential resources
that actually meet the needs of these students?
"These proceedings have shown how Connecticut's high-poverty school
districts have been getting short-changed," said Herbert Rosenthal,
President of CCJEF. "Today's decision
marks the first step toward ensuring all students have meaningful
opportunities to become college- and career-ready."
Preschool, teaching, and special education
The court reported that
if there was any one thing in the trial that stood out as good
... policy it was the need for universal high-quality preschool.
Witnesses for both sides agreed that high-quality preschool would
be the best weapon to get ahead of the literacy and numeracy
problems plaguing schools in impoverished cities.
But, the court failed to order it.
In striking contrast, the court took deep dives into education
policy regarding teacher evaluations and students with disabilities.
The court ordered policy changes for teachers and other educators
that are controversial and have been proven ineffective, even harmful.
That part of the court's order may lead to negative impacts on
educators and students and a lowering of educational quality, especially
in Connecticut's high-poverty communities.
Also, many will find the court's extensive discussion of students
with disabilities and funding for their services troubling. The
court indicated that funding for students with severe or multiple
disabilities was irrational and not connected to "education" if
they were not capable of receiving an elementary and secondary
In summary, the Court ordered the state defendant to propose remedial
measures, within 180 days, on the following subjects:
- the relationship between the state and local government
- an educational aid formula
- a definition of elementary and secondary education
- standards for hiring, firing, evaluating, and paying education
- funding, identification and educational services standards
for special education.
Here is a link to the trial
court ruling, which is a 254-page pdf. Or, cut and paste: http://www.jud.ct.gov/CCJEFvRell.pdf
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