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NPR: Waiting for Education Ruling

It’s been more than a year since the state Supreme Court heard arguments in an important lawsuit challenging the way Connecticut funds public education. Plaintiffs continue to wait for the high court ruling. 

Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding versus Rell could be the most far-reaching state education lawsuit since the Sheff vs. O’Neill desegregation case. A coalition of municipalities, boards of education, parents and teachers say that under Connecticut’s constitution, the state must provide children with an equitable and adequate education. They say that means that students should be prepared for college and to become effective citizens. A Superior Court judge dismissed the “adequacy” portion of the lawsuit. The plaintiffs appealed to the CT Supreme Court.  Five justices heard oral arguments in April 2008.  A few months ago, the court added two more judges to the case, so a full seven-member bench will ultimately issue the decision.

Yale Law School Clinical Professor Robert Solomon is the attorney for the plaintiffs. He’s not surprised by the long wait for a ruling. “Given that Kerrigan, the same sex marriage case took equally as long and it’s a major constitutional decision I as a litigant would hope we would have heard by now but I can’t say its shockingly long.”

Lawyers for the state argue that it’s the responsibility of the legislature and not the Supreme Court – to address quality of education issues. Once a decision is announced, the case will go to trial.

Listen to the NPR story by Diane Orson

NH Independent: A Year Later, Still Waiting For Education Ruling

One year ago, the Connecticut Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a major constitutional case that could change the way public school education is funded in the state – when it’s finally decided. The state’s highest court has now delayed its ruling once more.

CCJEF v. Rell is probably the single most important education case since the landmark desegregation case, Sheff v. O’Neill, which was filed 20 years ago this week.

While the full seven-member bench could have heard CCJEF last year, two justices decided not to sit, leaving five members to decide the case.

That was then.

Two weeks ago, as the year April 21st anniversary approached, Michele T. Angers, the court’s chief clerk, wrote a letter to attorneys announcing that the Court has ordered an “en banc” court. That is, instead of letting the five justices who heard the case rule on the case, it had decided to add two justices to the case in order to create a full seven-member bench.

“The urgency of our claims should be obvious,” said Dianne Kaplan deVries, the CCJEF project director. “While we’ve waited these past 12 months for a decision from the Supreme Court, thousands of students have dropped out of our public schools, with Latino students leaving at four times the rate of their white peers, and blacks and American Indians at three times the white dropout rate.

“Also this past year some 47,000 schoolchildren failed to score at even the “basic” reading level on the state’s assessments, and 40 percent of all Connecticut schools failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind.”

Yale Law School Clinical Professor Robert Solomon, who has overseen the CCJEF case, told the Eagle: “We are certainly pleased that a major constitutional case will be resolved en banc, but it is an important case that still has to go to trial, and we hope we can get a Supreme Court decision as quickly as possible.”

Read the entire New Haven Independent story by Marcia Chambers

Courant: CT Towns Raise Red Flag On School Budgets

Municipal leaders and education advocates used a lot of metaphors Wednesday to describe state and local budget problems.

“You can’t squeeze blood from a stone.”

“We’re facing a tsunami.”

Public education is a ship in troubled water, heading straight toward an iceberg without radar or binoculars.

The bottom line: We need more money from the state or we need relief from unfunded mandates. And we need it now.

“The governor and General Assembly must recognize that the bulk of education costs cannot continue to be passed on to cities and towns,” said Dianne Kaplan deVries, the project director for the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding.

DeVries was one of several speakers at a press conference hosted by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. Municipal and school leaders from across the state gathered at the Legislative Office Building to urge lawmakers to give more relief to towns and cities that don’t feel they can raise taxes any higher to balance budgets.

Education leaders argued that municipalities need more money from the state’s Education Cost Sharing grants. In their budget proposals, both Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the Democrat-led legislature proposed keeping funding the same as last year for the grants.

“We appreciate flat funding,” said Cal Heminway, president of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and a member of the Granby Board of Education. “But understand that flat funding is actually a cut on a local level.”

Read the entire Hartford Courant story by Jodie Mozdzer

CT Post: More school funding sought

Connecticut’s mayors and first selectmen said Wednesday it’s inevitable that higher taxes on the state’s wealthiest incomes will be part of this year’s budget solution in the General Assembly.

During a news conference attended by about 200 chief elected officials, budget experts and school administrators, the leaders called for more state funding for education and warned that less state aid will mean higher property taxes locally…

Diane deVries, project director of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice In Education Funding, which is awaiting a decision on state funding in the Connecticut Supreme Court, said neither the governor’s budget, proposed in February, nor the majority Democratic package voted in committee last week, has enough funding through the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula.

 “Quite simply, flat funding of the ECS is a cut,” she said. “The short-term ramifications of the state’s broken, outmoded school finance system and its heavy reliance on local property taxes are already apparent: inadequately resourced schools, gross inequities of school quality, unacceptably low academic performance by students in far too many communities, and the nation’s worst achievement gap.”

Read the entire Connecticut Post story by Ken Dixon

Courant: Court Considers: What is a Good Education?

Simon Bernstein sat in the front row of the courtroom Tuesday as state Supreme Court justices, an assistant attorney general and two law students grappled over the meaning of his words.

Back in 1965, Bernstein had been largely responsible for crafting an article added to the state constitution guaranteeing “free public elementary and secondary schools.” A former Hartford alderman and Bloomfield school board member, Bernstein’s experience with local school funding debates had convinced him of the need to make education a fundamental right.

“I thought I was giving a simple clear statement without any unnecessary words that could be misinterpreted,” said Bernstein, now 95 and a retired judge.

But on Tuesday, the exact meaning of those words were up for debate as the state Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit challenging the way the state funds education.

The lawsuit was brought against the state on behalf of 10 families with children in public schools and the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, a group of education and municipal organizations.

It claims that the state fails to maintain a suitable and substantially equal education system by providing inadequate resources and conditions for education in many school districts, leaving students unprepared for jobs or continuing education and likely politically and socially marginalized.

Read the entire Hartford Courant story by Arielle Levin Becker

NPR: School Finance Lawsuit

Connecticut’s Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a special appeal Tuesday-part of the school finance case brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding.

In 2005 a coalition of municipalities, boards of ed, parents and teachers known as CCJEF filed a lawsuit, charging that Connecticut’s public financing system violates students’ constitutional right to an equitable and adequate education. Last year, a Superior court judge dismissed the “adequacy” part of the lawsuit.; CCJEF appealed straight to the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Much of the hearing centered around – how to define an “adequate” or “suitable” education. Two Yale Law School students argued on behalf of the plaintiffs. They pointed to underperforming schools in Bridgeport and Meriden and said the state’s constitution gives these students the right to be prepared for a world beyond high school.

Read the entire NPR story by Diane Orson

CT Post: ‘Quality’ education focus of lawsuit

Thousands of Connecticut children are receiving inferior educations that are failing to adequately prepare them for later life, Yale Law School students charged Tuesday before the state Supreme Court.

Poor educational quality is holding children back in cities such as Bridgeport, while other school systems, especially in the wealthier suburbs, are preparing their children to join the 21st century’s global economy, they said.

“The problem is that at some schools, students aren’t learning,” said Neil Weare, 27, a third-year law student. “When they graduate, they simply cannot read. They don’t have the math skills to go on to college or even to get a meaningful living-wage job.”

Weare and David Noah, a second-year law student, were allowed to argue before the state’s highest court as part of the Yale Law Education Adequacy Project, savings plaintiffs millions of dollars.

The project filed the suit in November 2005 for plaintiffs including Nekita Carroll-Hall, of Bridgeport, who has two children in the local school system. The suit was rejected at the lower court level, setting the scene for Tuesday’s make-or-break hearing in a packed courtroom.

“No matter how you describe it, the purposes of public education are clear and these purposes are to prepare students to — after graduation — be able to get a job or go on to college, to be able to be effective citizens within our democracy,” Weare said. “We’re asking the court to decide whether the state is meeting its constitutional duties.”

“Thirty years ago, this court recognized that Connecticut schoolchildren have the fundamental right to education,” Noah said. “The question before the court today is whether that right has any meaningful content.”

Read the entire Connecticut Post story by Ken Dixon

Yale Daily News: Law students to advocate for schools

Two Yale Law School students will advocate for more than 600,000 Connecticut schoolchildren before the state Supreme Court in Hartford today.

For the two students in Yale’s Education Adequacy Clinic, David Noah LAW ’09 and Neil Weare LAW ’08, more than a year of work will culminate today as they present their oral argument in a case that will decide whether Connecticut’s constitution, which has guaranteed the right to an education since 1965, entails some baseline quality of education. The students will argue it does, on behalf of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, the lead plaintiff in the suit.

The state Supreme Court has previously read the constitution to include the right to equal educational opportunity – but some opportunities may be more equal than others, according to the students.

“Just equal could be equally poor,” said Brian Savage LAW ’09, another student in the clinic. The suit contends that there must be a minimum standard.

Read the entire Yale Daily News story by Issac Arnsdorf

NH Register: High court to hear arguments on legality of school funding

Yale law students will argue before the state Supreme Court today against what they claim to be a state educational funding system that unconstitutionally denies students in poorer municipalities “suitable and substantially equal educational opportunities.”

On Nov. 22, 2005, 15 Connecticut families and the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding filed suit against numerous state parties, including Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the state Board of Education, asking the court to declare the current education funding system unconstitutional.

“The level of resources provided by the state’s education funding scheme is arbitrary and not related to the actual costs of providing a suitable education. By failing to maintain an educational system that provides children with suitable and substantially equal opportunities, the state is violating plaintiffs’ constitutional rights,” the suit charges.

Read the entire New Haven Register story by Elizabeth Benton

CT News Junkie: Do CT Students Have a Right to an “Adequate Education”?

The Connecticut Supreme Court will be asked Tuesday to determine if Connecticut schoolchildren have a right to an adequate education.

Yale Law students filed the case against the state more than two years ago on behalf of 15 students and their families that feel the quality of education is falling far short of its intended goal. The Attorney General’s office is expected to argue on behalf of the state.

“By recognizing that each child in this State has the right to an adequate education, the Supreme Court can empower the Legislature to provide our children with the kind of education they deserve,” David Noah, one of the law students who will make the oral arguments to the court, said in a press release.

At the press conference Monday, East Hartford Mayor Melody Currey said the fact that the state could argue there is no right to an adequate “education under the Connecticut constitution strikes me as preposterous.”

“Surely out beloved Attorney General has gotten the State’s position all wrong!” she added.

Nekita Carroll-Hall, one of the plaintiff’s in the case, said “I have seen how grossly underfunded the Bridgeport schools truly are.” She said the class sizes are too large and books, computers, and instructional staff are too limited.

Read the entire CT News Junkie story by Christine Stuart