Connecticut students now have a right to an education that meets standards set by the state Supreme Court — thanks in part to students at the Yale Law School.
The court ruled 4–3 Monday to require schools to prepare students to go to college, find a job and “participate in democratic institutions.” Education advocates called the ruling a landmark decision that will help to fix the state’s “broken” educational system, which currently has the largest achievement gap in the nation.
“This is a huge win for Connecticut schoolchildren,” said Dianne Kaplan deVries, project director at the education non-profit Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding. The coalition was the sole plaintiff in the case, known as CCJEF v. Rell, representing 15 students and their families starting in 2005.
The justices were divided as to whether the state is constitutionally obligated to provide education standards. In one dissent, Justice Christine Vertefeuille wrote that the state Constitution guarantees children a free public education, not necessarily a “suitable” education with minimum standards. Justice C. Ian McLachlan joined justice Peter Zarella in a second dissent, in which they worried the ruling would wrest control of education policy from local boards of education and cost the state at least $2 billion.
The ruling comes nearly two years after two former Yale Law students, working with the Law School’s Education Adequacy Project, presented oral arguments in the case.
In September 2007, Hartford Superior Court Judge Joseph Shortall rejected the plaintiffs’ claims. The coalition appealed to the state Supreme Court, but it took the Court exactly 23 months after the oral arguments to make a decision.
Robert Solomon, the director of clinical studies at Yale Law School, said a move by Chief Justice Chase Rogers during CCJEF v. Rell was in part responsible for the delay in proceedings. In April 2008, oral arguments for the case were heard by a panel of five judges, but Rogers later decided that the entire court should rule on the case, so the two other justices had to catch up.
Lindsey Luebchow LAW ’11, co-director of the Education Adequacy Project, said the delay could be an indication of the case’s importance.
“It’s obviously a historic case, so they knew it was something they could not take lightly,” Luebchow said. “We were anxious for a decision, but we are very glad they took their time and got it right.”
Leubchow said she hopes the state legislature will act to reform the state’s education system so that it complies with the new standards set by the court. But if legislators choose not to act, the Project and the coalition will sue the state to prove it is not providing the constitutionally mandated standard of education.
“We’re really in the middle of this process, not at the end,” Solomon said.