Inside school funding “victory,” CT Judge apparently seeks to set special education services back 40 years

As the evidence makes clear … the State of Connecticut fails to provide most of its cities and towns with adequate school funding.

Now, in an important but flawed legal ruling, the judicial branch of government is finally making it clear that the state’s unwillingness to deal with this significant problem violates Connecticut law.

Yesterday, September 7, 2016, a Connecticut state judge agreed with a coalition of towns, parents and public school advocates that the actual mechanism by which Connecticut distributes school aid is unconstitutional because it fails to provide poorer communities with adequate resources that are required by the Connecticut constitution. The judge’s proposed remedy, however, was limited (More coming on that front).

While the decision is an important milestone on the school funding issue, Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s Memorandum of Decision is nothing short of absurd, ill-conceived and simply  wrong when it comes to Connecticut’s special education programs, the state’s illogical teacher evaluation system and the state’s over-reliance on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC and SAT testing schemes.

In his ruling, Moukawsher actually suggests that students should face even more standardized testing in Connecticut’s classrooms.

And of greatest concern is his unwarranted, outrageous and mean-spirited attack on special education services in Connecticut’s schools.

The truth is that Connecticut has actually been a leader when it comes to providing special education services to those who need extra help in the classroom.  While issues certainly exist when it comes to adequately identifying and providing services to those students who have special needs, the underlying problem is not that students get special education services, but that Connecticut’s cities and towns are left with an unfair share of the burden when it comes to financing those extra educational activities.

In Connecticut, there has been widespread consensus that society and the state have an obligation to ensure that every child is provided with the knowledge, skills and opportunities to live more fulfilling lives and that includes children with special needs.

Yet in an stunning diatribe, Judge Moukawsher appears to suggest that Connecticut retreat from that commitment.

Moukawsher writes;

“Yet school officials never consider the possibility that the education appropriate for some students may be extremely limited because they are too profoundly disabled to get any benefit from an elementary or secondary school education….It is about whether schools can decide in an education plan for a covered child that the child has a minimal or no chance for education, and therefore the school should not make expensive, extensive, and ultimately proforma efforts..

To suggest that Connecticut public schools do not have an obligation to serve, as best they can, every student is to suggest policymakers retreat from the most basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and that of the State of Connecticut, as well as, from federal law and regulations that apply to those who need extra services.

In today’s world, a policy that seeks to define any children as unteachable is repugnant.

One can only hope that the judge, in his haste to issue a ruling, misspoke or misunderstood his fundamental role in ensuring that the state continue to meet its duty to all of Connecticut’s children, their parents and the broader society.

To reiterate, when it comes to Connecticut’s special education programs, the problem is not that services are provided, but that the state is failing to fully reimburse school districts for those costs.

As a society we must recognize our commitment to every public school student.  Stepping back from that commitment is simply not acceptable.

To read the Judge’s entire Memorandum of Decision go to; https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3100630-School-Funding-Decision.html

More media coverage of the ruling can be found at:

Judge strikes down state education aid choices as ‘irrational’  (CT Mirror)

Ruling may end ‘hold harmless’ principle in CT budget politics (CT Mirror)

Judge Orders State To Make Sweeping Changes To Education Funding, Policies (CT Newsjunkie)

Court Orders Far-Reaching Reforms for Public Schools (Hartford Courant)

Judge says state’s school funding formula is irrational  (CT Post)

Judge, Citing Inequality, Orders Connecticut to overhaul its school system (New York Times)

  • R.L.

    “Yet school officials never consider the possibility that the education appropriate for some students may be extremely limited because they are too profoundly disabled to get any benefit from an elementary or secondary school education….It is about whether schools can decide in an education plan for a covered child that the child has a minimal or no chance for education, and therefore the school should not make expensive, extensive, and ultimately proforma efforts..”
    I have to say that I agree with the judge on this one to a large degree. I have a very large percentage of SPED students in my classroom, always. Many of these students are in way over their head and, frankly, shouldn’t be in the class. They should be learning the math of how to balance a checkbook or they should be learning how to interact in an acceptable manner with others. Some people will never “master” algebra II. In Hartford we have to teach to the level of the child, not the expectations of the class. That is the directive. How can you give a kid credit for learning how to add in an algebra class and then give them credit for algebra? That is the absolute norm in Hartford. That is why our graduates are so deficient. When you teach a full class with generally 50% (it would be more if the district wasn’t afraid of over-identifying) of the class being either ELL, SPED, or both with little to no “push in”, the other students are absolutely being denied their right to a free and public education. At least to the level of what would be considered a “quality” education. The curriculum becomes irrelevant. Throw in those who are behaviorally dysfunctional and are in need of serious psychological support, and you have a zoo. Hence, you have your poor schools, throughout the country in crisis. I’m not saying that resources shouldn’t be allocated to help those at a disadvantage to be able to learn to a point where they can achieve some sort of personal success. What I’m saying is that those who are on, or could be on, a more academic track (YES I SAID TRACK, tracking works!) should not be denied simply because we want to pretend everyone has the same capacity for learning. Full inclusion is a disaster! Why do you think charters and magnets sound good to people? They aren’t escaping a bad school necessarily, they are escaping a dis-eased portion of their community. The di-ease being poverty and the actual physiological effects it has on the brain. People look to charters and magnets because they discriminate against those who have IEPs or don’t speak English. It’s systemic tracking.
    Fixing education would not be so hard. Everyone should have the opportunity. However, those who desire the opportunity should not be sacrificed to those who refuse the opportunity and are put into the same classrooms. Those who need services should be provided those services, but not at the expense of those who don’t require services. Anyone should be able to take any class, just pass the prerequisite. I believe this is more of the way it was before the dark days of Adamowski. A comprehensive high school offers much more choice than a smattering of small academies and magnets offering classes based on a theme. All of those new buildings must have been very expensive. I bet we lost a lot of our services on them.

    • disqus_xnN7AtRFM0

      Well, tracking to the lowest common denominator is happening in our schools for those that have Learning Disabilities, yet nobody bothers to close the gaps they have, and the gaps widen each and every year!

      If you want to make a difference in the trajectory that so many Special Ed students are currently tracked on, then you have to start teaching reading differently. Instead of whole language and LLI, you need to go back in time and use Orton Gillingham based methods, or for those that have even more serious speech language impacts, Linda Mood Bell, which have been proven to work for those that struggle using traditional methods.

      When you warehouse cognitively average or above children into the same track as those that cannot benefit as much due to their cognitive disabilities, then what do you think happens to the students that are cognitively able to benefit?

      Their instruction is taken down to the Lowest Common Denominator and they are left behind their general ed peers!

      I have seen the devastation and negative impacts it has on kids who lose their self esteem when it comes to attending school. And not because they could not learn if they were provided proper and effective instruction. But because they could not learn due to their teachers instructional disability!

      Because they were never trained in methods that work for those that struggle to learn how to read and write with greater proficiency.

      My foster child was a Title 1 student with learning disabilities, but was not diagnosed with learning disabilities, but with OHI classification.

      And the gaps widened each and every year.

      And when the child finally landed in a family that advocated for his needs, the door was slammed on them by the public schools.

      And subsequently pushed out to the private sector to obtain the proper tutoring methodology to remediate his areas of academic weakness.

      And it changed his trajectory. He graduated as a Junior from HS with an Advanced Regent diploma and 33 college credits. He then graduated from community college the following year with an Associate of Science degree, and this year enters 4 year college as a Junior (a full 2 years ahead of his HS class cohorts!)

      But if he stayed in the failing public school he was in, he’d have been tracked to a VoTech program (which is fine if that is truly what he was passionate about, but it isn’t at the moment.)

      And this student should have had much more remedial instruction provided in the classroom, during the school day versus being pushed out to the public sector to obtain it.

      But he was denied it routinely each and every year. Why? I believe its because of his demographics as being a Title 1 student. I truly believe this is the only reason. They just gave up on him because he came from a poverty stricken neighborhood therefore why bother closing the gaps. And hence how it becomes generational poverty.

      But I think this resilient young man will break the cycle and become a leader and will help others do the same.

      And I agree that those that don’t want the academic rigor should have an alternative pathway to graduation; but for those that do, then they should be provided with the proper instruction and supports and services to do so.

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