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.