CT education funding trial may be pushed

Upon the request of the state, a trial over the adequacy of CT education might be pushed back from July 2014 to October 2015.

The plaintiffs — consisting of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, aided by a Yale Law School state clinic, as well as individual parents, mayors and leaders of teachers unions — seek to argue before a judge that CT is not meeting its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate and equitable education to Connecticut schoolchildren. The lawsuit against the state was originally filed in 2005, and the plaintiffs have been fighting to go to court ever since.

This month, the state requested to delay the trial, arguing that the plaintiffs’ complaints fail to account for recent increases in education funding. At a hearing on Thursday, a Hartford Superior Court Judge will hear arguments about whether or not the trial should be delayed.

“When the stakes are this high, the defendants, on behalf of the taxpayers of Connecticut, are entitled to know and understand the plaintiffs’ case, not as it existed four or more years ago, but as it will actually be presented at trial,” Associate Attorney General Joseph Rubin wrote in his motion to delay the trial.

The state claims that the plaintiffs’ expert reports only include data up until 2011 and that before going to trial, they must revise their reports to reflect recent education reforms. Rubin highlights new additions to education funding towards areas including childhood education, teacher training and professional development.

But the plaintiffs, represented by the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, said recent legislative changes are far from adequate and the plaintiffs deserve their day in court.

“Our position is that the legislation that is being produced will have minimal effects, and that our claims are just as valid as they were in 2005,” said Attorney Rebecca Jenkin of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.

Back when the lawsuit was first filed in 2005, it was ruled that CCJEF had no standing because there were no harmed parties filing the suit. But in 2010, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that all public school students in the state do have a right to an effective and meaningful education, and the CT Supreme Court sent the case back to the Superior Court for a full trial.

The state then attempted to dismiss the lawsuit, asserting that 2012 education reform legislation would soon make significant improvements to education if given some time. Last December, Judge Kevin Dubay rejected the defendant’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit.

Dubay wrote in his decision that the extent to which the recent legislation would determine the adequacy of the state’s education system was still unclear and that only through a trial could the education system be evaluated.

The original lawsuit highlights particular problems prevalent in the state, including low performance on standardized tests and high drop out rates.

Rachel Dempsey ’09 LAW ’15, a Yale Law Student working on the case said the fundamental problem is the wide achievement gap Connecticut faces.

“Connecticut has the widest achievement gap in the entire country, and that is hugely problematic,” Dempsey said. “It indicates that the school system is not giving the low-performing students what they need in order to be successful.”

CCJEF commissioned a study by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates (APA) to estimate the cost of an adequate education in Connecticut and give recommendations for reforming the state’s school finance formulas. According to the 2005 cost study, based on an extensive data analysis, the state underfunds education by approximately $2 billion dollars per year. In its request to delay the trial, the state emphasizes that this number is outdated and warrants a delay in the trial.

Since the case could cause taxpayers to pay $2 billion more to fund education, it is imperative that the state has the opportunity to fully defend the case, Jaclyn Falkowski, a spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, wrote in a statement.

But plaintiffs said that an additional $2 billion might not be the remedy to the state’s inadequate education system; they only seek a declaration that the state is not meeting necessary standards in education.

Over 200 Yale law students have been involved in the case since Yale Law School established a clinic in 2004.

 

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