A Connecticut Superior Court ruling thrust state educational disparities into the spotlight last week when it declared various aspects of the state’s educational system unconstitutional.
In the 90-page ruling on Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell, a case that has been going on for more than a decade, Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher said that “Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty’’ to educate children from low-income families in poorer areas of the state and called on the state to devise a better formula for funding its public schools. The court found that the state government is constitutionally responsible for providing all students with satisfactory education, regardless of their financial background.
Data included in the ruling showed a significant discrepancy between high- and low-income towns in terms of college and career readiness of recent high school graduates. While low-income municipalities such as Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven had over 60 percent of recent graduates unready for college, graduates from more affluent communities such as Darien, Weston and Westport reported data around the 15 percent mark.
CCJEF v. Rell was first filed in 2005 by a coalition of cities, school boards and Connecticut residents who claimed the state was failing to provide all state residents with equal and adequate schooling. In his Sept. 7 ruling, Moukawsher gave the state Department of Education, the legislature and Gov. Dannel Malloy 180 days to submit solution proposals to the problems he identified within the state’s public education system.
“To keep its promise of adequate schools for all children, the state must rally more forcefully around troubled schools,” Moukawsher wrote. “It can’t possibly help them while standing on the sidelines imposing token statewide standards. And while only the legislature can decide precisely how much money to spend on public schools, the system cannot work unless the state sticks to an honest formula that delivers state aid according to local need.”
Moukawsher also took issue with the state’s lack of a standard for elementary and high school levels, Connecticut’s unregulated system of teacher evaluations and the “irrational” way that special education services are funded in the system.
Teacher evaluation is still “almost entirely local” and state standards are almost entirely “illusory,” Moukawsher wrote in the ruling. As a result, he said, while 98 percent of teachers have been marked as proficient or exemplary, nothing in the system indicates that such results are “useful or accurate.”
“To get rid of an irrational policy, adopt a rational one,” Moukawsher wrote in the ruling. “It’s the court’s job to require the state to have one. [It is] the state’s job to develop one.”
Included in the required solutions the state must present in the next six months are an educational aid formula; a definition of elementary and secondary education; standards for hiring, firing, evaluating and paying education professionals; better delineation of the relationship between the state and local government in education; as well as funding, identification and educational services standards for special education.
Neither the Connecticut Department of Education nor Malloy’s office returned request for comment over the weekend.
In a Wednesday night press release, New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Garth Harries said New Haven has been a plaintiff in this case from the beginning of the lawsuit and that the city has cooperated with the ongoing case in both “information gathering” and “advocacy.”
“Educators in New Haven have done the best we can with the resources we have, and we have much to be proud of in that work — including our focus on schools in low-income communities schools and strategic investments,” Harries said. “This ruling, however, pushes the state further down the path of finally delivering the full resources that our students deserve in order to secure their future.”
He added that the district looks forward to seeing what the state would propose as a funding redesign in the coming months, in hopes of “even more equitable, transparent and predictable funding.”
In 2013, over 500,000 students were enrolled in Connecticut schools across its 200 school districts.