Trial on Landmark Education Funding Lawsuit Begins
A trial that seeks to answer whether Connecticut provides a suitable and adequate education to all of its public school students begins today in Hartford Superior Court.
The landmark lawsuit, which was filed by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding in 2005 against then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell, could change how education is funded in Connecticut.
It’s the first time that the two sides have been able to argue the underlying case since a divided Supreme Court in 2010 issued a pretrial ruling saying that public school children have a constitutional right to “suitable educational opportunities.”
“The journey on this long and winding judicial road has taken nearly 11 years, but now Connecticut’s schoolchildren will have their day in court,” Herbert C. Rosenthal, CCJEF president, said. “The outcome of this historic case will have profound impacts on how public education services are delivered and funded for generations to come.”
Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher will preside over the trial and decide the case. He’s blocked off dates through the end of May for the trial. The case has experienced numerous delays since it was sent back to the trial court for a hearing.
According to court motions, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding intends to argue that the Education Cost Sharing grant, which is the primary source of education funding for most communities, “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.”
The Attorney General’s office will be representing the state in the lawsuit. Spokeswoman Jaclyn Falkowski said they support the goals of “continuing to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for all Connecticut children.” However, she said “it is our statutory obligation to ensure that the state and its taxpayers are fully and fairly defended in this case, and that is our focus as we prepare for trial.”
The state says the plaintiff’s are seeking a $2 billion increase in state education funding each year and it doesn’t believe that’s “necessary to meet a constitutional guarantee of adequate, free public elementary and secondary schools.”
“We think the evidence in court will show that the state is meeting its constitutional responsibilities, particularly considering that Connecticut already has one of the best-funded and most effective public education systems in the United States, and that the current administration has targeted both substantial additional money and strong programs of administrative support toward the lowest performing schools,” Falkowski said.
The coalition and the 16 families who will represent the plaintiffs contend in court documents that low-wealth, high-poverty districts — such as Bridgeport, Danbury, East Hartford, New Britain, New London, and Windham — are unable to provide students will all the resources necessary for an adequate and equitable education.
The lack of adequate resources in these districts has “led to materially lower outputs, as measured by test scores, high school graduation rates, college attendance rates, and other measures of educational performance.”
The state argues in court documents that “educational improvement comes primarily from improved leadership, administration, accountability measures, and strong support for stronger teaching, and not from adding money to an already well-financed system.”
If the plaintiff’s prevail in making their argument then the next phase of the trial would be to determine a remedy.