Lawmakers respond to education ruling

Following last week’s state Supreme Court ruling that Connecticut students have a right to an adequate public education, legislators and education advocates say they are pushing with renewed vigor for legislation that will clarify what “adequate” means.

“They’ve upheld the constitutional right of an adequate education, and that gives those of us that are looking for change a principle that we can ask our colleagues to also embrace,” said State Rep. Jason Bartlett, a Democrat who sits on the state assembly’s education committee.

When the next legislative session convenes in January, three members of the education committee said their top priority will be passing legislation that will reform the state’s public school system.

Four education reform bills are already on track to become law before the end of the current session in May, Bartlett said. One would give parents the right to petition for a school’s reorganization. Another would allow districts to tie students’ test scores to their teachers.

Bills such as these, not court decisions, must form the crux of education reform, Bartlett said.

“Ultimately, this is a policy matter that is going to have to be resolved by policy makers,” said Alex Johnston, the CEO of New Haven-based education advocacy group ConnCAN.

Three state representatives interviewed said the problems with Connecticut’s education system arise, in large part, inefficient funding within school systems.

It is not uncommon for taxpayers in affluent communities to see only 1 cent per education dollar they pay in taxes go to local schools, said Sen. Toni Boucher, a Republican whose district includes New Canaan. When students attend public schools other than their local public schools, their education tax dollars do not follow them, she said. Instead, the money stays at students’ designated school.

“Education reform’s no longer about the money as much as it is about the quality and what’s actually going on in schools,” Boucher said.

A lack of coordination between teachers’ unions and legislators is another obstacle that legislators must overcome, Bartlett and Boucher said. New Haven and Hartford are on the right track with their education reform efforts, Bartlett said, but still have a ways to go.

“The status quo is not working, and everybody has to be at the table to make the kind of changes we need,” Bartlett said.

New Haven and its teachers’ union signed a contract in October which was hailed as an unprecedented effort between the teachers’ union and the city to find common ground. The contract mandated that at least three teachers serve on the city’s education reform committee, made student progress a factor in teachers’ evaluations and reduced teachers’ job protections.

Last week’s case featured oral arguments by two former Yale Law School students.

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