Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) vs Malloy (and Rell)

Eleven years ago, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) brought a suit against the state of Connecticut charging that the state’s school funding formula had been so corrupted that it violated Connecticut’s Constitution by failing to provide cities and towns with sufficient state aid to ensure that every child received a proper public education.

At the time, Dannel Malloy was the Mayor of Stamford and signed onto to lawsuit as a plaintiff, correctly pointing out that students in his community and across the state could not get a proper education as a result of Connecticut’s warped school funding program.

As a candidate for governor Malloy supported the suit and recognized that it was the single most important mechanism for transforming Connecticut’s school funding formula into something that adequately funded schools and treated local property taxpayers more fairly.

But upon being elected governor, Malloy switched his position 180 degrees and has spent the last seven years trying to prevent the critically important lawsuit from coming to trial.  When that strategy failed, he wasted precious public dollars, as has Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, working to convince the judicial system that Connecticut’s unfair school funding system is just fine.

For the last five months, a Connecticut judge has been taking testimony on the case.  Yesterday the legal team representing students, parents, teachers and public schools gave their closing arguments.  Today, the state will make their pitch about why the courts should turn their backs on Connecticut’s school funding crisis, and leave the ECS formula in place.

In a story wrapping up the trial, the CT Mirror wrote;

This question over whether the case, which was filed nearly 11 years ago, should move forward is not a new one. The state’s attorney general has been asking the court for years to strip CCJEF of its standing to sue.

But the attorney representing the plaintiffs rejected those calls Monday.

“I think that it is absolutely undisputed that we have at least one set of plaintiffs that have standing in this case…That ends the discussion,” Joseph Moodhe, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told the judge. He called the debate over standing a “red herring” aimed at avoiding a decision on the quality of the education being offered to students.

As for the fundamental issues of the case, the CT Mirror explained:

What’s an adequate education?

A divided Connecticut Supreme Court six and a half years ago ruled that the state is responsible for ensuring that public schools are of a certain quality, but left it up to a lower court to determine what that standard is and whether it is being met.

“Where do you set the standard? I think that is what has to be considered,” Moukawsher said Monday.

The plaintiffs argued Monday an adequate education is one that prepares students with the opportunity to attend college when they graduate high school.

“Our case is about not having those opportunities because the resources are not there for those children,” said Moodhe. “Ultimately, it comes down to whether the district is getting the appropriate resources to provide for what’s needed to educate their children.”

Throughout the trial, the coalition chose six school districts to highlight problems – Bridgeport, Danbury, East Hartford, New Britain, New London and Windham. All enroll high concentrations of students from low-income families.

“The larger issue is what happens in districts that have large proportions of impoverished adults and students and how that particular dynamic impacts the ability of districts to provide an education to the students they are there to serve,” said Moodhe. “I think the evidence is quite clear that all of these townships are financially distressed; that most of the evidence has indicated that the superintendents have fought to get additional funding and pretty much without exception they have been disappointed… Because these towns are populated by poorer populations, they really don’t have the income in order to finance their schools.”

During his closing arguments, Moodhe asserted that high-poverty districts are not meeting even a minimum threshold for education quality because they cannot hire and retain talented staff.

“Poverty district students are more likely to be taught by less experienced new teachers,” said Moodhe. “Our districts are disadvantaged by districts’ inability to field the best teachers.”

Difficult working conditions, teachers and principals testified throughout the trial, include larger class sizes and high concentrations of high-need students. Educators say they lose waves of their best teachers each year, have trouble hiring replacements, and have too few teachers and other support staff to keep their students from falling further behind.

“They have less compensation and less enviable working conditions,” said Moodhe. “The evidence is quite clear that the teacher situation is a problem.”

But attorneys representing the state have countered that the schools in these districts are overwhelmingly filled with excellent teachers — as evidenced by annual evaluation ratings — and that the state has spent millions in recent years so that students have the staff support they need.

The lengthy article went on to note:

An equal education for all?

There’s no question that the state’s wealthiest communities are spending much more educating their students.

But should the state be responsible for equalizing that disparity?

Neither side is arguing that should happen.

Rather, those suing the state want a funding system that recognizes the extra cost to catch high-need students up with their peers.

While the states primary school funding grant provides 30 percent more money for children from low-income families, experts who testified for the plaintiffs during the trial testified that it costs two to three times as much to educate poor children who often show up for school with major deficiencies.

The state directs the vast majority of its education funding to the poorest and lowest-achieving communities, but the plaintiffs argue it clearly hasn’t been enough to make up for the significant needs these districts face.

Their proof: test results that show about half the students from these districts are multiple grade levels behind in reading and math.

“What you really have to do is give somebody the opportunity to get that adequate education. They may not get there. But you have to give them the tools and the resources,” he said.

When should the court step in?

The State Constitution requires that, “There shall always be free public elementary and secondary schools in the state. The General Assembly shall implement this principle by appropriate legislation.”

Missing is language clarifying what level of education is required.

Three of the seven justices on the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the constitution entitles every school-aged child to a “an education suitable to give them the opportunity to be responsible citizens able to participate fully in democratic institutions, such as jury service and voting, and to prepare them to progress to institutions of higher education, or to attain productive employment and otherwise to contribute to the state’s economy.”

A fourth justice wrote a concurring opinion, agreeing that the constitution guarantees a certain level of educational quality but setting a much lower threshold for what that standard would be.

“The right established under [the constitution] requires only that the legislature establish and maintain a minimally adequate system of free public schools,” Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote. “Consequently, in my view, the plaintiffs will not be able to prevail on their claims unless they are able to establish that what the state has done to discharge its obligations under [the constitution] is so lacking as to be unreasonable by any fair or objective standard.”

In the absence of a clear majority mandate from the high court on what quality threshold the state must meet, Judge Moukawsher on multiple occasions has said he worries about overstepping the court’s proper role.

“I think you should understand by now that I have concerns about the fitness of the court to set a level of education spending beyond a bare minimum,” he told the attorneys Monday.

That concern stems from court decisions seemingly piling up that force the state legislature to spend money on particular priorities. On Monday, the judge specifically pointed out the courts’ involvement in ordering the state to desegregate Hartford schools and to take better care of abused and neglected children in the custody of the state’s child welfare agency.

“If I order so many billions to go to education as a whole, are there going to be billions left to desegregate Hartford Public Schools? So too with respect to the Department of Children and Families,” Moukowsher said. “The court is telling [the legislature] ‘spend this, spend that.’ How do courts do that in a vacuum? How can a court say, ‘Here’s what you’re going to spend’ without even considering that there are other constitutional rights that you impinge on when doing that. And there are a lot more, the mentally ill, prisoners, all of them have constitutional rights. When you order spending over here, you have to recognize that you’re affecting the spending over there.

“It means we have a big problem in courts doing this sort of stuff,” said Moukawsher, a former state legislator who represented Groton. “As much as you might say that courts have done it, I am not willing to do it unless I can believe there’s a way to do it rationally and fairly and a way that does not undermine the whole constitutional structure of the state by having the judiciary interfering so much with the job of the legislature that it cripples the legislature’s ability to do policy decisions.”

But, he acknowledged, there has to be some minimal standard that the court holds the legislature and governor to, otherwise, “You would have an empty constitution.”

Attorneys for the state have been arguing for judicial restraint in this case, but those suing the state maintain that a constitutional right should not be blunted by other obligations the state also must meet.

“The right to an adequate education is an affirmative constitutional obligation,” said Moodhe. “There is a challenge to the legislature for inaction… The legislature should not be given wide deference to meet that affirmative obligation.”

And the CT Mirror summarized the case, asking, “What’s the remedy?”

If the judge determines that the state is not providing students with the education the constitution requires, it could then be up to him to fashion a remedy.

If that’s necessary, the state says it would want him to order the legislature to make this its top priority and fix the problem, as was done in previous education funding and segregation lawsuits.

But the coalition suing the state says the courts should oversee a remedy that directs more money to needy schools.

No matter what Moukawsher decides, both sides have said they will appeal to the state Supreme Court for a final determination.

You can read and comment on the full CT Mirror article at: http://ctmirror.org/2016/08/08/ct-school-funding-on-trial-5-key-questions-facing-the-judge/

Hey Malloy, Wyman and Jepsen – Connecticut children have a Constitutional Right to a quality education!

Six years ago the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in the case of CCJEF v. Rell that Connecticut’s State Constitution REQUIRES that all public school students have the fundamental right to “an effective and meaningful (quality, adequate) education, the standard for which is “dynamic” and dependent on the “demands of an evolving world.”

Connecticut’s Supreme Court then sent the case to a trial judge to determine what the State of Connecticut must do to meet that standard.

However, for the past six years Governor Dannel Malloy, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, Attorney General George Jepsen and the Malloy administration have fought to derail, destroy or dismiss this incredibly important lawsuit.

Instead of stepping up to fulfill their legal duty to the children of Connecticut, these “Democratic” politicians have devoted a massive amount of taxpayer resources in an immoral attempt to prevent Connecticut’s children (and Connecticut’s local property taxpayers) from having their “day in court.”

Despite Malloy, Wyman and Jepsen’s best efforts, the CCJEF V. RELL trial begins today.  (See CT Newsjunkie Trial on Landmark Education Funding Lawsuit Begins)

As CCJEF explained in a recent press release;

(Hartford, CT)—The landmark CCJEF v. Rell education adequacy and equity case goes to trial before the Hartford Superior Court beginning Tuesday, January 12, 2016.

At issue in the case is whether the State’s public education finance system meets the adequacy and equity standards required by the Connecticut Constitution (PROPOSED STATEMENT OF FACTS, Plaintiffs’ Preliminary Findings of Facts and Conclusions of Law, January 5. 2016).

“The journey on this long and winding judicial road has taken nearly 11 years, but now Connecticut’s schoolchildren will have their day in court,” said Herbert C. Rosenthal, CCJEF President.  “The outcome of this historic case will have profound impacts on how public education services are delivered and funded for generations to come.  It is time to acknowledge that the education finance system in our state is broken and needs to be fixed.” said Rosenthal.

CCJEF (www.ccjef.org) is dedicating our trial efforts to the memory of Dr. Dianne Kaplan deVries, CCJEF founder and long-time project director, who passed away on October 11, 2015.

CCJEF, established in 2004, is a broad-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit that seeks to achieve an adequately and equitably funded PreK-12 public education system that is based on the learning needs of students and the real costs of delivering high-quality education in every community.

In 2005, CCJEF and several named school children and their parents filed suit against the State of Connecticut (CCJEF v. Rell) for its failure to meet its constitutional obligation to adequately and equitably fund the public schools. In a 2010 pretrial ruling, the Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed the State’s constitutional obligation and remanded the case back to the trial court for full trial on the merits of Plaintiffs’ adequacy and equity claims.

As noted, additional details about CCJEF’s position can be found in the PROPOSED STATEMENT OF FACTS, while Malloy/Wyman/Jepsen’s warped version of the education funding issue can be found via State of Connecticut Position.

As the recent CCJEF press release explains, Dianne Kaplan deVries served as The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding’s Project Director until her recent death. 

Diane Kaplain deVries was a tireless advocate for Connecticut’s public school children and wrote multiple commentary pieces about the school funding issue which were published at CT Newsjunkie.

In a March 11, 2013 CT Newsjunkie column entitled, Fighting Children in the Courtroom, Diane Kaplan deVries framed the growing frustration with the way Malloy and his people sought to undermine public education in Connecticut.

A 2010 Connecticut Supreme Court pretrial ruling says that public school children have a constitutional right to a quality (adequate) education and the state must pay for it. That’s surely inconvenient for a state with a budget in the red. No wonder lawyers for both sides are bumping heads as the case inches forward to trial, currently scheduled for July 2014.

It appears from the motions filed in late January by the state in the Connecticut Coalition of Justice In Education Funding v. Rell lawsuit that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a former prosecutor, would prefer to fight schoolchildren in the courtroom than to sit down with plaintiffs and realistically consider the state’s options.

The state filed two motions with the trial court. One seeks to dismiss the case because it is either moot or not yet ripe for trial, and for a second time since the case was filed, also seeks to remove the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding as a plaintiff.  This newest challenge to the coalition’s associational standing hinges primarily on the large number of school districts and municipalities that are members—creations of the state which are not ordinarily able to bring suit against it. The second motion asks the court to modify the scheduling order that sets deadlines for steps leading to trial.

In support of its motion to dismiss, the state appended some 410 pages of documents. These primarily consist of copies of the 2012 legislation, various State Department of Education compilations, and affidavits from state Department of Education Chief Financial Officer Brian MahoneyEducation Commissioner Stefan Pryor, and a consultant from Hawaii, Richard Seder.

Arguments raised by the state relating to mootness are that the CCJEF complaint describes education deficiencies that some children may have experienced in 2005. However, thanks to the education reform legislation enacted by last year’s legislature it has “dramatically and comprehensively altered the public education system the plaintiffs ask this court to declare unconstitutional” (p. 2, Motion to Modify Scheduling) The state also claims that the funding that accompanied those reforms, laid out in the Mahoney affidavit, was substantial.

Perhaps hedging bets on which argument may resonate more with the court, the state simultaneously argues against the ripeness of plaintiffs’ claims, maintaining that it is too soon for this case to come to trial because there needs to be sufficient time for those 2012 education reforms to produce a measurable effect.

Undaunted by the state’s positions, CCJEF counsel fired back a reply brief with 329 pages of exhibits. Countering the affidavits attached to the state’s brief is the affidavit of Rutgers Professor Bruce Baker, one of the nation’s leading school finance experts. (For those with less reading time available, his recent blog posting on SchoolFinance101 makes use of some key scattergrams from his CCJEF reply brief affidavit.)

Baker’s analysis of the 2012 education reform legislation differs vastly from the views presented in the state’s filings. Highlights are as follows:

  • Changes in funding for the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant for 2012-13 are trivial, even for the Alliance Districts, which saw increases mostly less than $200 per pupil and under 2 percent.  Fiscal analyses reinforce rather than negate plaintiffs’ claims of underfunding of the ECS formula and its inequitable distribution of state aid.  Moreover, increased funding to charters that already outspend host districts (after adjusting for student need) and serve lower-need student populations exacerbates rather than moderates disparities in opportunity.
  • Nominal changes to various state policies enacted in 2012 produce no change to the distribution of educational opportunity (equity) and provide no measurable additional resources (adequacy).  Nor is it likely that they could in future years.  Moreover, the funds attached to the policy changes, aside from being trivial, are not guaranteed (as was evidenced in December by the Governor’s rescissions, followed shortly thereafter by the legislature’s deficit mitigation cuts).
  • The 2012 policy changes mainly add structures that label the successes and failures of districts, schools, and teachers — labels that come with an increased threat of state intervention and a reduction of local control that may adversely affect local property values, accelerating the downward spiral of communities already in long-term economic and educational decline.  Absent the provision of equitable and adequate resources, such policy changes may disrupt local governance and involvement in the schools and force upon local districts new costs and spending requirements.
  • The state’s claims of improvements to be gained through mandated changes to teacher evaluation as a policy lever for redistributing (positively) educational opportunities for schoolchildren are without foundation or supporting evidence.  To suggest that changes to teacher evaluation alone would improve the equity and adequacy of the teacher workforce — regardless of resources — ignores the increased job insecurity and absence of increased wages or benefits that counterbalance the risk.  New teacher evaluation schemes also come with substantial up-front costs that are not addressed with additional state aid to school districts.
  • Educational adequacy and equal educational opportunity should not be reserved for a tiny portion of schools (Commissioner’s Network) or districts (Alliance Districts).  Adequate funding should not sunset, nor should it be at the discretion of a single political appointee.

In addition to the expert opinion, legal arguments pertaining to mootness and ripeness, as well as a strong defense of CCJEF’s legitimate standing in the case,the reply brief was offered by counsel for the plaintiffs, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP (New York), with assistance from the Yale Law School Education Adequacy Clinic, both of which serve pro bono in this action.

Constitutional challenges on behalf of schoolchildren’s rights are among the most complex cases any court can hear. They are also among the most challenging cases to be brought or defended against. That said, it is difficult to fault the state for doing what defense lawyers do:  they file motions aimed at making the case go away.

However, the state’s motion to dismiss raises concerns, even incredulity, about any perception that at the 11th hour, Malloy successfully pushed through legislation that negates (or soon will) the decades of harmful neglect and deprivation of resources by the state of its public school system. Could anyone truly imagine that those 2012 reforms, together with whatever initiatives and meager funding may come out of the 2013 legislature, are sufficient for affixing the “Mission Accomplished” banner outside the Capitol complex, proclaiming that the state at long last is meeting its constitutional obligation to schoolchildren?

You can read the original piece at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_fighting_children_in_the_courtroom/

We lose Dr. Dianne Kaplan deVries, A True Public Education Hero

Dr. Dianne Kaplan deVries, a dear friend and extraordinarily powerful champion for Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and public schools died on Sunday after a battle with cancer.

Although her legacy is yet to be fully written and those who will benefit the most from her incredible work may never know her name, as the leading force behind the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF], Dianne has been and will remain the most vital force behind the historic effort to ensure that Connecticut’s public schools are adequately and fairly funded and that every Connecticut child is provided with the education, knowledge and skills they need to live more fulfilling lives.

J.R.R. Tolkien whose work is categorized as fiction rather than non-fiction, and therefore cast aside by the Common Core and Common Cores testing enthusiasts wisely noted that,

“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit” – J.R.R. Tolkien

With that knowledge and in that light there are few who have been as courageous and dedicated as Diane Kaplan deVries and fewer still whose lifetime of work has been as important to the future of our children.

Incredible in life, perhaps the most disturbing truth of all about Diane Kaplan Devries’ work is the uncomfortable fact that so many elected officials, often led by so-called Democrats, immorally and unethically sought to throw up barriers to stop Diane’s critical effort to make sure that Connecticut’s children got the education they needed, while ensuring that Connecticut’s middle income property taxpayers were treated more fairly.

It was a topic that many education advocates including Wendy Lecker and I wrote about often.  To fully understand the meaning of losing Diane Kaplan DeVries and the way in which some worked so hard to undermined her efforts, I respectfully request that you click on the links and read some of the following articles;

Jepsen/Malloy Continue to Squander the Opportunity of a Lifetime; (2/7/2012)

It’s only the most important school funding case in our lives – Malloy supported it/Now he opposes it (by Wendy Lecker) (3/23/13)

The Dan to Dannel transformation on the most important education lawsuit in Connecticut history (4/5/2013)

The CCJEF v. Rell School Funding Case: The incredible transformation of Malloy and Jepsen (9/16/2013)

Malloy can tell it to the judge (By Wendy Lecker) (12/14/2013)

Whatever you do, don’t mention school funding and the school funding lawsuit! (1/15/2014)

NEWS FLASH: Kids win, Malloy/Jepsen lose as judge rules school funding trial to begin this summer (1/16/2014)

As CCJEF (www.ccjef.org) reported in the press released that they issued last Monday night,

For the past 17 years Dianne has been the leading champion in the battle to force long-needed school finance reform here in Connecticut. Here dedication to overturning Connecticut’s unconstitutional school funding formula began with the case of Johnson V. Rowland which lasted from 1998 to 2003.

When that case was dropped, Diane built a much larger statewide coalition that led to the filing of the CCJEF V. Rell lawsuit.  In 2010, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that “under the education clause of the state constitution, public school children are entitled not just to a free and equal education but also to an adequate (quality) education, and the state must pay for it.”  Although the court’s determination remains unfulfilled five years later, the finding was the turning point in how Connecticut will fund its schools.

While Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy was one of the original plaintiffs in the case, upon being sworn in as Governor Dannel Malloy, the self-described education proponent completely reversed his position and has spent that last five years wasting precious time and taxpayer funds in his concerted effort o delay, derail and destroy what is probably the most important Connecticut legal case in our lifetimes.

But despite Malloy’s effort and that of his administration and other key Democrats, the CCJEF v. Rell will come to trial in January 2015 in Hartford Superior Court.

In the CCJEF press release, Herbert C. Rosenthal, the CCJEF President said,

 “Dianne Kaplan deVries was a tireless advocate for the rights of all Connecticut public schoolchildren — regardless of economic background, race or town of residence — to receive the quality education our state constitution promises and requires.  The passion, intelligence and commitment that Dianne brought to educational equity and adequacy is unsurpassed.  Our friend and colleague will be sorely missed. In this sad time, all of us in CCJEF rededicate ourselves to ensuring that her dream of equal educational opportunity is realized.”

And CCJEF consultant and fellow education advocate James J. Finley added,

“Dr. Dianne Kaplan deVries will be in the forefront when the history of equal educational opportunity in Connecticut is written.  At great personal sacrifice, Dianne dedicated over 17 years of her life to righting the wrongs of our state’s PK-12 education finance system.  It is because of her singular and indefatigable efforts that the work of CCJEF will continue.”

Additional media reports on losing Diane can be found in the following recent news stories.

CT Newsjunkie – School Funding Advocate Dianne Kaplan deVries Dies of Cancer

Hartford Courant – Education Activists Say Director’s Death Won’t Stop Funding Lawsuit

CT Mirror – Kaplan deVries, leader of school-funding coalition, dies

News Flash: What the Hell is going on…Malloy snubs nose at Connecticut law

Earlier today, Connecticut’s Board of Regents for Higher Education met and voted to forward three names to Governor Malloy with the request that he pick one to serve as President of the combined State University and Community College System.

But the fact is that neither the Board of Regents nor the Governor has the authority to make the choice in this way.

According to Connecticut law, the Governor nominates the majority of the members of the Board of Regents and, according to the new Board of Regents law passed in 2011, “The Governor shall appoint the chairperson of the board…”

However when it comes to choosing the President of the Connecticut Board of Regents system, the law is absolutely and completely clear.

Section 10a-1b of the Connecticut State Statutes reads, “(a) The Governor shall appoint an interim president of the Board of Regents for Higher Education who shall serve as president until a successor is appointed and confirmed. On or after January 1, 2012, the president of the Board of Regents for Higher Education shall be recommended by the board and appointed by the Governor…”

Governor Malloy did appoint an interim President who was forced to resign after it was discovered that he inappropriately provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses to his staff.

And now it is “on or after January 1, 2012.”

The law is that, “the president of the Board of Regents for Higher Education shall be recommended by the board and appointed by the Governor…”

According to a story that has been posted on the CTMirror website, the Chairman of the Board of Regents, appointed by Malloy, said that the board sent three names for Governor Malloy to pick from following “a request from the governor’s chief of staff to do so.”

The CT Mirror reports that Board of Regents Chairman Lewis Robinson said, “Which ever one he chooses, we have a fine leader…I think all three are outstanding. I am excited.”

But as the CT Mirror goes on to note, “State law requires the board to recommend “the president” to the governor. The board’s decision was announced during a two-minute public meeting following an hour-long meeting of the board behind closed doors.”

“The governor had requested three. And I thought as a courtesy or respect to his office, it would be appropriate to accede to that wish,” Robinson told the CT Mirror.

But the law is the law.

And, this is a law that the Governor’s Chief of Staff helped write and personally lobbied.

If the Governor and General Assembly meant to have the Board of Regents forward three names to a sitting governor so that the governor could then wheel and deal, they would have done that.

Instead it was written in a way similar to the law for the University of Connecticut.

Connecticut law has always been clear that it is not the role of politicians to decide which academic should run our institutions of higher education.

Instead, the approach has always been that governors nominate and legislatures approved the members of the various boards who then have the duty to make the key personnel decisions removed, or at least somewhat, from the realm of partisan and personal politics.

The debate about how best to choose the President of the Board of Regents took place two years ago.  A process was decided and that process was put into law.

That process provided that the Board of Regents would go through the selection process and choose who they deemed to be the best person for the job…and the governor would then appoint that person to the post.

The law is the law.

The Chairman of the Board of Regents had an obligation to tell Governor Malloy that the Board was legally obligated to follow the law.

The Board of Regents itself was obligated to tell the Governor that the Board was legally obligated to follow the law.

And Governor Malloy and his Chief of Staff should never have requested that the Board of Regents do anything but follow the law.

As citizens of the state of Connecticut we are left wondering…

What will it take for the Governor of this state to admit that even he is not above the laws of Connecticut?

Meanwhile, Connecticut’s Attorney General should be on the phone right now ordering the Board of Regents to re-convene and conduct themselves in a manner that fulfills their duties under the laws of Connecticut, regardless of what the Governor has asked them to do.

You can find the CT Mirror story here:  http://www.ctmirror.com/story/19641/governor-will-get-pick-next-college-president

Senate President Williams, Speaker of the House Sharkey; Commissioner Pryor is mocking you and the Legislature

Last week the Bridgeport Board of Education voted 5 to 4 to illegally appoint Paul Vallas as Bridgeport’s Superintendent of Schools effective March 4, 2013.

However, as you will recall, during the “education reform” debate, Commissioner Pryor provided the General Assembly with draft language that you adopted and was signed into law that modified the certification process for superintendents by expanding the Commissioner’s ability to waive certification requirements in various situations.

Although Commissioner Pryor’s language was intended to remove barriers for waiving certification for Paul Vallas, the Bridgeport Board of Education’s action fails to follow the procedures laid out in the very language Pryor persuaded you to adopt.

As you are undoubtedly aware, Connecticut General Statutes Section 10-157 sets forth the process that a local board of education must follow when selecting a Superintendent of Schools.

Effective July 1, 2012, Section 10-157 of the Connecticut Statutes was modified to reads as follows:

(b) A local or regional board of education may appoint as acting superintendent a person who is or is not properly certified for a probationary period, not to exceed one school year, with the approval of the Commissioner of Education. During such probationary period such acting superintendent shall assume all duties of the superintendent for the time specified and shall successfully complete a school leadership program, approved by the State Board of Education, offered at a public or private institution of higher education in the state. At the conclusion of such probationary period, such appointing local or regional board of education may request the commissioner to grant a waiver of certification for such acting superintendent pursuant to subsection (c) of this section.

(c) The commissioner may, upon request of an employing local or regional board of education, grant a waiver of certification to a person (1) who has successfully completed at least three years of experience as a certified administrator with a superintendent certificate issued by another state in a public school in another state during the ten-year period prior to the date of application, or (2) who has successfully completed a probationary period as an acting superintendent pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, and who the commissioner deems to be exceptionally qualified for the position of superintendent.

According to Commissioner’s own January 23, 2013 letter to the Bridgeport Board of Education, Mr. Vallas’ probationary period runs through December 31, 2013.  How he chose that date is a mystery since Mr. Vallas was already working on July 1, 2012, so his probationary period, not to exceed one school year, could not possibly last past September 1, 2013 but regardless, he has not completed his probationary period.

Even more importantly, the new law requires that during his probationary period he must “successfully complete a school leadership program, approved by the State Board of Education, offered at a public or private institution of higher education in the state.”

Mr. Vallas hasn’t even enrolled in such a program, let alone completed one.

And the language couldn’t be clearer, “At the conclusion of such probationary period, such appointing local or regional board of education may request the commissioner to grant a waiver of certification for such acting superintendent pursuant to subsection (c) of this section – meaning to have his certification requirement waived, he MUST complete his probationary period and he MUST complete his training program.

According to the very language you adopted and the Governor signed, Paul Vallas CANNOT serve as Bridgeport’s Superintendent until he has completed the course and his probationary period.

However, the contract the Board of Education approved makes him Superintendent, rather than Acting Superintendent, as of March 4, 2013.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the “education reform” and privatization efforts being pushed by Mr. Vallas and Commissioner Pryor, no one is above the law.

Even Mr. Vallas, who said that asking him to be certified is like requiring Michael Jordan to be certified to coach basketball, is not above the law.

As legislative leaders, you are in a position to persuade Commissioner Vallas to follow the law, or at the very least, request that Attorney General Jepsen provide a ruling on this issue.

Please stand up and protect the Constitutional role of the Legislative Branch of government and take the necessary steps to ensure that the Executive Branch follows the laws of Connecticut.

As an aside, as you know, even Michael Jordan would be required to get certification to coach in a Connecticut school.

Early Childhood Education: We’re for it – Unless We’re Against it:

Wait, or is it the other way around?

If there are any legislators out there – now is the time to speak out and make a real difference concerning the future of early childhood education.  Please join Representative Gary Holder-Winfield and Senator Beth Bye who has been very outspoken and Representative State Representative Matthew Ritter, who was the only legislator to sign onto a letter written by the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance.

Last week the federal government, once again, rejected Connecticut’s application for $50 million Race to the Top education funds.  That makes three times that Connecticut has failed to successfully compete with other states for these vital funds.

This time it was Connecticut’s application for the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Funding that was rejected. The federal government was looking for “High-Quality, Accountable Programs; Promoting Early Learning and Development Outcomes for Children; A Great Early Childhood Education Workforce and Measuring Outcomes and Progress.”

The Department of Education in Washington gave Connecticut a C- for its existing early childhood education programs.  Despite the high hopes, we weren’t even contenders.

This week, Connecticut Voices for Children, the state’s leading policy think tank, released a report about Connecticut’s early childhood education system.  They found that it “is currently a patchwork of multiple funding streams, controlled by multiple agencies, with varied reporting and eligibility requirements and inconsistent and insufficient data collection.”

The report added that federal and state funding for Early Childhood Education in the state has declined by about 10 percent over the past decade.

Connecticut has once more created a system in which there are the “haves” and “have-nots.”  About 67 percent of white children are in early childhood education programs, compared to 59 percent for African-American children and 51 percent for Latino children.

Also earlier this week, Governor Malloy reiterated his commitment to make 2012 the “year of education.”   Malloy’s spokesman said, “The governor has long recognized the importance of Early Childhood Education, going back to his time as mayor of Stamford where he launched a universal pre-k program…He agrees that our education system needs major reform, which is why we released a set of core principles to legislators earlier this week.”

However, there has been no indication that the Governor or Legislature are planning to come up with additional money, although the Governor did write in the federal grant application’s cover letter that “I am committed to fund one thousand new early childhood education slots targeted to high need children.”

The good news is that there is an increasing recognition among Connecticut’s elected officials that Early Childhood Education is important; that Connecticut is already far behind what other states are doing; and that a major initiative is needed if we hope to close the achievement gap and maintain an educated and capable workforce for our economy.

Yet to be seen is whether our officials will put real money into this effort.

And, at the other end of the scale, is that move by Attorney General George Jepsen, with the strong backing of Governor Malloy, to get the courts to carve out Early Childhood Education from the definition of education.

As a result of the lawsuit brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, the Connecticut Supreme Court not only reiterated that children have a constitutional right to an education, but that Connecticut’s education system must actually work and provide children with the knowledge and skills to succeed.

Then, three months ago, the Attorney General, citing the fact that Connecticut’s Constitution only refers to primary and secondary schools, petitioned the courts to make it clear that when the state government addresses the constitutional provisions associated with funding education, Early Education programs are specifically removed from what needs to be done to fulfill the state’s duty to its children.

Jepsen has responded to criticism by saying;

“My office, on behalf of the state has not questioned the potential benefits of pre-school education or the wisdom of providing such services to Connecticut children as a matter of public policy

Rather, we have filed a motion asking the Court to decide – as a legal, not policy matter – whether the Connecticut constitution’s guarantee of ‘free public elementary and secondary schools” was intended to encompass pre-school services.

Not to raise this important legal issue would be irresponsible and a disservice to the state of Connecticut and its people”

While reasonable people can disagree about exactly what the state Constitution means when it refers to education, there are two critical issues Jepsen overlooks.

First, the one constant that prevails throughout the broader education debate is that without successful Early Childhood Education programs you simply can’t have a successful education system.

Second, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that required Jepsen, with Malloy’s support, to file that motion.  As Dick Blumenthal showed day after day, year after year, the Attorney General’s Office is guided by a combination of both legal and policy issues.  If a future Attorney General wants to strip early childhood education out of the definition of education they can.

But as virtually every politician across the ideological spectrum is calling for a new and profound investment in Early Education, Jepsen has engaged in a separate, unnecessary and harmful effort to exempt state government from having to maintain its early educational programs in the future.

The voters of Connecticut elected George Jepsen over his opponent because they believed he would use his values and beliefs as he worked to uphold the law.  This second and counterproductive effort is not only being spearheaded by a Democratic, but it has the blessing and support of the Democratic Governor.

And perhaps the most amazing piece of all is that only three out of 187 member of the Connecticut General Assembly have stepped forward to officially ask the Attorney General and the Governor to withdraw their motion to carve out Early Childhood Education.

Every Connecticut elected official needs to decide: are you for Early Childhood Education or are you not?

And if they are for Early Childhood Education, they need to have the conviction to ensure that, in Connecticut at least, the notion of “education” includes Early Education programs.

Had we done that over the last couple of decades we might have received that $50 million federal grant.  We didn’t get the grant; but these officials can have an even bigger impact – they can work to make sure Jepsen and Malloy pull back on their anti-early childhood education motion.

Legislators, three of your colleagues have stepped up, now is the time for you to join them and speak out.

Early Childhood Education Blog Post (Part II) – Are Jepsen and Malloy wrong on this issue

Two days ago I posted a blog entitled Forget Race to the Top: Connecticut’s Education Policy Takes a Terrible Tumble in which I took Attorney General George Jepsen and Governor Dannel Malloy to task for seeking to carve out early childhood education from the definition of what Connecticut’s children have a Constitutional right to receive.

The responses I received on the blog and via email were thoughtful and substantive.  Some highlighted the actual Constitutional wording and others pointed out the lack of available funds to pay for added costs of including early childhood education as a Constitutional requirement.

I’d like to respond by urging readers to return, for a moment, to the spring of 1977 when, in the case of Horton v. Meskill, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that Connecticut’s system of school financing was unconstitutional.

Connecticut was one of the first states in the country where the courts stepped in to say that a child’s right to an education was so fundamental that state governments must act to ensure that school financing systems “provide a substantially equal educational opportunity.”

Since Connecticut’s school were funded primarily through local property taxes, there were huge disparities between towns when it came to funding schools and the Court said that the funding situation violated the equal access rights that all of Connecticut’s children have a right to.

The Court went on to say that while the legislature must address the school funding issue it made it clear that how it was addressed was a matter for the legislative branch and not the courts.

In the ensuing years the legislature adopted and refined the Guaranteed Tax Base (GTB) school funding formula to try and address the funding disparity issue.

Almost twenty years later, the Supreme Court addressed Connecticut’s school funding system in the case of Sheff v. O’NeillAlthough this case dealt more with segregation, the underlying issue was how best to address the right  Connecticut children had to an education. The Teacher Enhancement Act, the Education Cost Sharing Formula and various desegregation measures were all related to the state’s ongoing duty to provide appropriate educational opportunities.

This extraordinary saga took on added importance in the 2010 case of Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, Inc. v Rell when the Supreme Court ruled that the state actually had a Constitutional obligation to provide students with “an education suitable to give them the opportunity to be responsible citizens able to participate fully in democratic institutions, such as jury service and voting… [and] to progress to institutions of higher education, or to attain productive employment and otherwise contribute to the state’s economy.”

As a result of this vital ruling, the legislature must face the fact that not only must it adopt a funding formula that removes disparities in resources but it must ensure that children have access to a quality education that will provide them with the knowledge and skills necessary to be “productive citizens”.

This now brings us to Jepsen and Malloy’s effort to carve out early childhood education from the definition of what type of education students must be provided.

While there are certainly some short-term budget implications of keeping early childhood education within the definition this isn’t about this bi-annual budget, or the next or even the one after that.

State government has been required to address its duty to properly fund its education system since 1977.  Now, 34  years later, the process is still in flux and will be for the next 34 years.

George Jepsen and Dan Malloy have the opportunity to frame that debate for decades to come.  Early childhood education has proven to be one of the most important factors when it comes to later educational success.  While money alone doesn’t make a system successful, it is clear that a successful education system must include an early education component.

The motion to remove early childhood education was neither necessary nor appropriate.

While it is certainly appropriate to look to the wording of the State Constitution, the truth is that if Connecticut has a Constitutional duty to provide children with a quality and successful educational experience, it will need to ensure that children will have access to early childhood education programs.

Jepsen and Malloy would claim that they are the most pro-education elected officials who have ever held their respective offices.

Their legal action undermines those claims because this truly isn’t about what happens during their tenure but how Connecticut develops over the next 50 years.

And thus I return to my conclusion that this was the wrong move, at the wrong time and their motion should be withdrawn before it does permanent damage.