Just a week after a Connecticut Superior Court ruling in the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell case declared the state’s educational system “unconstitutional” on Sept. 7, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen filed an appeal to the ruling with the Connecticut Supreme Court on Sept. 15. On Monday, CCJEF plaintiffs themselves filed an opposition to Jepsen’s appeal, further extending the lawsuit that has been ongoing since 2005.
In his 90-page ruling, Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled on Sept. 7 that the state was defaulting on its “constitutional duty” to educate children from low-income households, arguing that the state’s formula for public school funding, which he claimed results in disparate education quality. The court also declared that the state government should be constitutionally responsible for providing satisfactory education to all students, independent of their families’ financial conditions.
But in a Sept. 15 statement, Jepsen said the state would seek a direct appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court on Moukawsher’s decision. Jepsen said the court overstepped in issuing the decision. Under the current system of government, Jepsen said, state education policy is determined by the legislative and executive branches — not the judicial — and implemented by local school boards. He called that system a “strong tradition.”
“This decision would wrest educational policy from the representative branches of state government, limit public education for some students with special need, create additional municipal mandates concerning graduation and other standards and alter the basic terms of educators’ employment — and entrust all of those matters to the discretion of a single, unelected judge,” Jepsen said in his statement.
According to state law, the Chief Justice has one week to rule on Jepsen’s application for an appeal, which was filed Thursday.
Yet, the Chief Justice’s ruling on the appeal remains up in the air given that following Jepsen’s appeal, the CCJEF plaintiffs were invited by the Chief Justice to file an opposition to the appeal, according to Director of Communications for the Office of the Attorney General Jaclyn Falkowski.
The plaintiffs filed that opposition on Monday afternoon; in their opposition motion, the plaintiffs said the Connecticut Supreme Court should decline to review the trial court’s rulings until the “remedy phase” ordered by the trial court was completed.
That phase refers to a deadline of 180 days after the Sept. 7 ruling that Moukawsher gave to the state Department of Education, the legislature and Gov. Dannel Malloy, by which the defendants must submit solution proposals to problems Moukawsher identified in his ruling concerning the state’s public education system. The solutions include presenting an educational aid formula, a definition of elementary and secondary education as well as funding, identification and educational services standards for special education.
“Having invested so much time and effort in the proceedings to date, and with a comparatively short schedule for completing the remedy phase, judicial economy is best served by a comprehensive review based on a full record compiled through final judgment,” CCJEF’s Monday afternoon statement read.
But while CCJEF is advocating for the court to wait out the 180 days — already down to 163 as of Tuesday — Jepsen continues to advocate for a timely review; in a statement in response to the plaintiffs’ opposition on Monday afternoon, Falkowski said delaying that review until a later time, as suggested by the plaintiffs, would “risk damage to important public interests and constitutional principles.”
Malloy spoke in similar terms in a Thursday statement following the announcement of Jepsen’s intention to appeal, arguing for the importance of a timely decision to the case.
Though Malloy said he understood and accepted the legal rationale behind Jepsen’s decision to appeal, he said it did not negate the “urgency” to take action for students. He also noted that legislative action was “always preferable” to a judicial decision and that it would be prudent to address systemic problems in the state’s educational system, such as fair funding, in the 2017 legislative session.
“We hope that this moment marks the start, rather than the stalling, of a statewide dialogue around finding a better way to fund our schools, which ultimately results in a better solution for our students and communities,” Malloy said in the statement. “We should act together, and we should do it sooner rather than later.”