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State Supreme Court Says Connecticut's Education Funding Is Constitutional

Jan 18, 2018
Originally published on January 18, 2018 5:07 pm

Connecticut's Supreme Court has rejected a claim that the state's educational funding formula is unconstitutional. 

A divided court overturned a lower-court judge who had ordered state officials to develop plans for an overhaul of the state's public education system, citing a huge gap in test scores between students in rich and poor towns.

The high court, in a ruling released Wednesday, found that while there is an educational achievement gap between poorer students and "their more fortunate peers,'' that gap alone does not violate the equal protection provisions of the Connecticut Constitution. 

"The plaintiffs have not shown that this gap is the result of the state's unlawful discrimination against poor and needy students in its provision of educational resources as opposed to the complex web of disadvantaging societal conditions over which the schools have no control,'' Chief Justice Chase Rogers wrote for the court.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed in 2005 against the state by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, a nonprofit group that includes cities, towns, local boards of education, parent groups and public school students. More than 50 parents and students also were named as plaintiffs.

The coalition argued during a months-long trial that the state isn't providing adequate education funding to cities and towns and isn't meeting its constitutional obligation to provide all students with adequate educations. It cited the vast differences in test results, graduation rates and other factors between rich and poor towns as proof that the funding system isn't fair.

The ruling overturns Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher, who had ordered the state to submit proposed reforms to the court to revamp its formula for providing education aid to cities and towns, develop a statewide high school graduation standard such as a test, make eighth-graders show they have acquired the skills to move on to high school, and replace what he called a weak statewide system of teacher evaluation and compensation.

"Courts simply are not in a position to determine whether schools in poorer districts would be better off expending scarce additional resources on more teachers, more computers, more books, more technical staff, more meals, more guidance counselors, more health care, more English instruction, greater preschool availability, or some other resource,'' Rogers wrote.

The coalition said it would review the decision before releasing its response. 

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the decision ends the landmark case regarding education funding, but not the need to distribute more educational dollars where there is the greatest need.

“We continue to believe that the state is obligated to ensure that funding is distributed in a rational manner based on student need, reflecting student poverty and demographic shifts in our communities,'' he said, adding how not enough progress has been made to improve the state's major education funding distribution formula.

Three of the seven justices involved issued a partial dissent, saying they would have ordered a new trial in the case, rather than simply ruling in the state's favor.

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