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Landmark Education Trial Pushed Back To January

by Christine Stuart | Jul 23, 2014 5:30am
(6) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Courts, Education, Election 2014, Hartford

Courtesy of CT-N

Superior Court Judge Kevin Dubay will hear arguments in the case beginning on Jan. 6, 2015

A landmark education funding trial was supposed to start on Sept. 9, but according to the parties involved it will be moved to January 2015 — months after the November election.

Last January, Superior Court Judge Kevin Dubay refused to push the trial past the November election as the state requested, but the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding — the group that filed the lawsuit — said Tuesday that they agreed to a trial date of Jan. 6, 2015.

The group has been fighting the state to properly fund pre-K through 12th-grade public schools since November 2005. They had been hoping in 2011, when Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took office, that he would seek to settle the lawsuit since he was one of the original plaintiffs. But it was a tough ask for a governor who was already struggling to hold cities and towns harmless when he needed to find money to replace the federal stimulus funds the previous administration had used in order to boost the Education Cost Sharing formula.

The plaintiffs have continued to put pressure on the Malloy administration to fully-fund the Education Cost Sharing formula — a move that may have been easier to do during his re-election campaign — but said they weren’t upset with the January 2015 trial date.

“The January trial date will enable CCJEF to gather information from the fall term of the 2014-15 school year and give additional time for other evidence collection.” CCJEF Project Director Dianne Kaplan deVries said Tuesday in a press release.

Former Newtown First Selectman Herb Rosenthal, who is president of CCJEF, echoed deVries’ statement.

“This is but an inconsequential delay in our decade-long struggle to make sure that school children will have their day in court,” Rosenthal said. “Moving the trial date to January can only strengthen our case and heighten our resolve.”

A spokeswoman for Attorney General George Jepsen said that the new trial date was necessary based on discovery requests.

“The state and the plaintiffs in this case agreed to the rescheduled trial date as it became clear that plaintiffs needed additional time to respond to court-approved discovery requests,” Jaclyn Falkowski said Wednesday. “We believe that a new trial date was necessary for the state to have a fair opportunity to defend this lawsuit, which seeks billions in additional taxpayer-funded education funding each year.”

In motions filed back and forth in court over the past three years, the state continues to argue that the Malloy administration has done enough to increase the Education Cost Sharing grant — an education grant that helps municipalities fund local schools. There’s also the question about if the state could even reasonably find the money to fully-fund the formula as it currently exists.

In court documents, Brian Mahoney, the chief financial officer at the state Education Department, said the legislature increased the Education Cost Sharing grant by $51.46 million in 2014 and $41.26 million in 2015. The boost in funding went to 119 towns and about 95 percent of it was directed at 30 of the lowest performing districts, called Alliance Districts, according to Mahoney.

But Jim Finley, former head of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and now a lobbyist for CCJEF, has said the increases in funding still don’t fully fund the formula.

“The ECS formula is intended to ‘equalize’ the ability of towns to pay for public schools at a level that ensures all students equal opportunities for educational excellence,” Finley said. “Since its inception, however, the ECS formula has never been fully funded.”

If it were fully funded it would total $2.7 billion, according to Finley.

“The actual 2012 grant was $1.89 billion, more than $763 million short of the ECS promise under the last formula, which was revamped in 2007. The total ECS formula for 2013 was $1.94 billion and will be $1.99 billion in 2014 and $2.03 billion in 2015,” Finley testified in an affidavit filed last year.

CCJEF and the named parent and student plaintiffs are represented by Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, the Yale Law School Education Adequacy Project, and David Rosen & Associates PC.

The state is represented by Attorney General George Jepsen and his staff.

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(6) Comments

posted by: Commuter | July 23, 2014  7:04am

The lawsuit served to compel action on the part of a feckless state government that refused to do anything about education funding. It was the then Mayor of Stamford driving it.

Now governor, Malloy is doing everything he can to provide the maximum funding to the state’s municipalities, and has talked on many an occasion about the structural problem of relying on the property tax to fund education.

The suit is actually moot.

posted by: GBear423 | July 23, 2014  7:45am

GBear423

Must be some really good lobbying going on… I see 4 more years of Malloy. This case would have been damaging had it gone on schedule (finally). Now this, Unions abandoning Pelto, McKinney nuking the Primary, all the pieces moving into place. sigh…

posted by: Pro-Public Education | July 23, 2014  10:32am

Well, why don’t you tell the over 50,000 children that attend schools in underfunded districts that the delay is inconsequential. What a completely insensitive remark.

posted by: DKdeVries | July 25, 2014  9:11am

Response to Pro-Education—Believe me, CCJEF shares your frustration.  But given how complex this case is and the nature of the systemic remedies we seek in ensuring adequate and equitable funding and educational opportunity, a trial delay of 5 months isn’t going to make any difference in when the needed resources finally reach our schools.  Stick with us. The case grows stronger every day.

posted by: imheretohelp | July 27, 2014  2:25am

This would be easy to solve. Its called a statewide property tax.  Determine the cost per child, say 12k per child, x # of kids in system, plus special-ed kid costs…and mill rate that to a STATE Grand list. 
Money disbursed to towns twice a year Sept/Jan under a money follows the child concept. Make teachers state employees for contract issues and pay. Imagine towns not fighting to PAY more to teachers, and the savings from reducing superintendent pay to mer mid-level manager levels instead of the stratosphere numbers we currently see.

(Don’t think supers are over paid…try this on for size…the super in Willimantic makes more than the ER physician down the street at Windham hospital. Tell me that isn’t a little messed up.)

Towns would be able to hire and fire or even trade teachers to other towns as enrollment goes up or down.

Oh wait this make all those fifetums we call towns obsolete in so many ways…
By the way did I miss something or is it not the states responsibility to educate the children..has this been supplanted? NO? Then why is it falling on towns at all to deal with this cost issue?
Wouldn’t a Vermont style Act 60 work here…or do we in CT have to try to invent the wheel every time?

posted by: Commuter | August 2, 2014  9:31am

@imheretohelp - It is actually the parents’ responsibility to educate the child under the law. As it should be. If the parent cannot educate the child themselves, they are required to enroll the child in the school system.

Two problems with your idea, one of which you pointed out, the other is that a property tax based system, even one that is statewide rather than local, is a terrible way to pay for education in this day and age.

You’re right though - funding education through a progressive income tax or some other method that has more relationship to ability to pay, and a mechanism for equally funding all children would be both more just and more effective.