A Superior Court judge in Hartford dropped a bombshell on Connecticut’s entire education system Wednesday, saying the state is failing in its constitutional duty to rationally and fairly fund public education.
The lengthy ruling in the 11-year-long case was read in its entirety from the bench in a highly unusual move by Judge Thomas Moukawsher.
Moukawsher's ruling gives the state 180 days to come up with a plan for an almost complete overhaul of educational standards in Connecticut.
In six months, the state must submit proposed changes to the court on:
- the relationship between the state and local government in education
- the educational aid formula
- a definition of elementary and secondary education
- standards for hiring, firing, evaluating, and paying educational professionals
- funding, identification, and educational services standards for special education
The original lawsuit was filed in 2005 by a group of towns, boards of education, unions and parents calling itself the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding. The coalition alleged in its suit that the state’s method of funding education was unconstitutional, and left students in poorer districts reliant on underfunded systems.
While Moukawsher said the plaintiffs had failed to prove the state did not spend enough on education, he did agree the way the money is spent is unconstitutional.
"The state is responsible for the condition of our schools. Its duty to educate is not delegable," he said in his ruling. "The state is responsible for local schools."
Moukawsher also blasted inadequate standards for high school graduation, reading a lengthy list of districts where officials admit more than half of graduates leave school unprepared for college or a career.
"The state is failing poor students by giving them unearned degrees," he said.
Moukawsher said nothing in the case has been done lightly or blindly, and he recognized the ruling will mean change for deeply ingrained practices. But he said "if they are to succeed, rather than be overwhelmed by demands for alternative schools, public schools must keep their promises. So change must come."