Accountability Connecticut Funding

Connecticut: Judge Rules State System of Funding to be Unconstitutional

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Jonathan Pelto is first to report on an important ruling by a Superior Court judge in Connecticut. His post contains links to news stories in two major Connecticut newspapers.

More than a decade ago, a group of mayors, parents and education advocates in Connecticut filed a lawsuit claiming the state’s school funding formula was unconstitutional.

On behalf of the state’s children, teachers, public schools and taxpayers, the plaintiffs argued that Connecticut’s school funding formula failed to ensure that every child had access to a quality and productive education, as guaranteed by the state constitution.

Known as CCJEF v. Rell, the case will eventually make its way to the Connecticut Supreme Court before it is fully resolved.

However today, a former Democratic state legislator-turned-judge sought to tread a political and timid path by calling the existing funding system “irrational,” but stopping short of declaring that the plaintiffs were correct in their assertion that Connecticut must both increase its level of school aid as well as distribute that aid in a more equitable manner.

I hope to get further analysis by Wendy Lecker, a civil rights attorney who is reading the decision now.

Connecticut’s funding formula is based on property taxes, which advantages affluent districts and harms poor district.

The Hartford Courant reports:

In a sweeping ruling Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher declared that “Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty” to fairly educate the state’s poorest children and ordered the state to come up with a new funding formula for public education.

Moukawsher’s unexpectedly far-reaching decision also orders the state to come up with clear standards at both the elementary and high school level and to improve the evaluation of teachers. Moukawsher did not address the level of funding for schools, but he blasted the General Assembly for recent cuts to public schools in the state’s poorest cities.

“So change must come. The state has to accept that the schools its blessing and its burden, and if it cannot be wise, it must at least be sensible,” Moukawsher said.

Reading his 254-page ruling for more than two hours, Moukawsher ordered the General Assembly to devise a new school spending plan within 180 days. He also found that “the state is paralyzed about high school graduation,” producing graduates in urban districts unready for “college nor career.”

The remarkable ruling orders the state to revamp virtually all areas of public education, from the hiring and firing of teachers to special education students to education standards for elementary and high school students.

Again, I await further analysis but it sounds as if the judge, in addition to chastising the state for its funding formula, also calls for more testing and test-based teacher evaluation.

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