Hey at least we’re not Rhode Island…

Connecticut may not have a governor who supports fair and adequate funding of our public schools, but at least we have a State Supreme Court that is willing to step  up and ensure Connecticut’s children get the quality education that they need and deserve.

The citizens of Rhode Island are not so fortunate.

Here in Connecticut, the State Supreme Court determined that the state DOES HAVE a constitutional obligation to adequately fund Connecticut’s public schools.  The Supreme Court sent the case, called Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF] v. Rell, back to the trial court for a full hearing on what would an adequate state funding formula would entail.

As Mayor of Stamford, Dan Malloy was one of the original plaintiffs behind this landmark lawsuit, a case that would lead to more state support for public schools and reduced pressure on local property taxpayers to pay those costs.

However, after getting re-elected on a promise to support the case, Governor Dannel Malloy joined Attorney General George Jepsen in trying to have this critical lawsuit dismissed and swept under the rug.

Thankfully the presiding in the case would have none of Malloy’s irresponsible maneuver and ordered that a full trial in the case against the State of Connecticut will begin later this year.

Unfortunately for the children, parents and teachers of Rhode Island, they don’t even have a state supreme court that is willing to stand up and ensure the politicians there don’t destroy their system of public education.

Diane Ravitch recently reported the news in an article entitled, “Rhode Island Supreme Court Rejects Equality of School Funding: Sorry, Kids!

Diane Ravitch writes,

Almost sixty years to the day of the U.S. Supreme court’s historic Brown decision, the Rhode Island Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit against the state’s inequitable funding system. The court said it was “deeply concerned” and acknowledged that the funding disparities hurt poor urban children most, but passed the buck. “Not our problem,” the court said.

Here is a summary from the Education Law Center.

RI SUPREME COURT IS “DEEPLY CONCERNED” BUT DENIES RELIEF TO SCHOOL CHILDREN

May 15, 2014

On May 3, 2014, the Rhode Island Supreme Court dismissed the fair school funding case, Woonsocket v. State. The Court concluded that conditions in the plaintiffs’ schools “make a strong case” against the current funding system. Nonetheless, the justices denied plaintiffs the chance to present their evidence in a trial on the merits of the case.

The Court wrote, “We emphasize that we are deeply concerned by the conditions of the schools in Pawtucket and Woonsocket as alleged by plaintiffs, as well as by the alleged predicaments of those municipalities regarding their inabilities to allocate the funding required to meet state mandates. Installing a means of providing adequate educational opportunities to every child in the state is not only an admirable goal; it is ‘perhaps the most important function of state and local governments.’” (quoting the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education)

In its written opinion, the Court summarized plaintiffs’ allegations, which detail the state’s adoption of higher and higher standards while failing to align funding to those standards. Insufficient resources mean students do not have the opportunity to reach the standards, plaintiffs assert. More recently, the state went so far as to cap local taxing authority so that municipalities attempting to make up for state shortfalls were not allowed to do so, plaintiffs add.

The Court also quoted plaintiffs’ complaint with regard to the most recent funding formula adopted by the state in 2010, noting that the formula “fails to provide adequate resources to allow children, especially in poor, urban communities, to obtain a quality education [and] a reasonable opportunity to meet the [state’s] academic standards.” The Court summarized plaintiffs’ description of the dire state of school facilities, books, and supplies, and the low test scores that flow from the state’s allegedly inadequate funding.

The state defendants filed a motion to dismiss this case, and the Court explained that its decision on the motion depended on interpretation of the Rhode Island Constitution’s Education Clause, which states that:

“The diffusion of knowledge, as well as of virtue among the people, being essential to the preservation of their rights and liberties, it shall be the duty of the general assembly to promote public schools, and to adopt all means which they may deem necessary and proper to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education.”

Although earlier precedent held that the Rhode Island General Assembly has exclusive authority over school funding, plaintiffs argued that repeal of a particular clause in the state constitution rendered that precedent irrelevant for the Woonsocket case. Plaintiffs also claimed that changes since the earlier precedent meant the state had replaced local control with state mandates. However, after an analysis of the impact of that repeal and other changes, the Supreme Court ruled that the General Assembly’s broad discretion in how it complies with the Education Clause was not impaired.

The Court indicates that the political branches could solve the problem of school funding without a court order by improving the states’ system. But the justices appear to ignore the General Assembly’s history of allocating inadequate funding for schools in low-wealth communities.

Based on that history and the current ruling, it appears that meaningful relief and educational opportunity will come to the students in under-resourced Rhode Island communities only if and when voters amend and strengthen the state constitution’s education clause. Only then will future plaintiffs with similar claims finally be granted their day in court. Some education advocates are proposing such an amendment.

You can read more about the case via the Education Law Center at: http://www.edlawcenter.org and http://www.educationjustice.org

Meanwhile, since we already have a Supreme Court on the correct side of this issue, all we need is a Connecticut governor who will be dedicated to fulfilling our moral and constitutional responsibilities to our children and future generations.  With that we could really start the task of putting Connecticut back on track.

CT Post Editorial says; Come on Malloy/Jepsen – Give State’s students their day in court”

The lawsuit is called CCFEF v. Rell.

As we know, it is the most important school funding lawsuit in more than 40 years.  Despite their previous support for the lawsuit, Governor Malloy and Attorney General George Jepsen are now working overtime to try and prevent he case from even being heard.

And now the Connecticut Post’s editorial writers weigh in…on the side of Connecticut’s students.

The CT Post writes;

“Eight years and countless hours of work into a suit that seeks more money for children in underserved communities, the governor and attorney general are asking that it be dismissed. While that would certainly make their lives easier, their reasoning is flawed, and a judge should reject their pleas and allow the suit to continue.

It was during the governorship of M. Jodi Rell that the suit was filed under the banner of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, arguing that Connecticut children are being shortchanged by state funding formulas, and that the state is not meeting its obligation to provide an “adequate” education to all children.

Parents and officials in the state’s major cities were behind the effort, and their ranks included the mayor of Stamford at the time — Dannel P. Malloy.

Now Malloy, as governor, and Attorney General George Jepsen are urging a court to dismiss the suit, and using a number of specious arguments. For one, they say the group lacks standing to sue the state, which is odd, considering parents and school officials in underfunded districts have more stake than anyone in the quality of education offered in Connecticut.

Jepsen has argued that it would be unfair to decide the case based on conditions from 2005, when the suit was filed. But surely it’s not the fault of the suit’s backers that it has taken this long to work its way through the courts. If that argument is successful, anyone sued would have everything to gain by simply delaying whenever possible and then calling the action old news, as the state is trying to do here.

State lawyers also argue that the education reform package signed by Malloy last year makes the issue moot. This argument has the least merit. While those reforms do many things, they do not approach a solution for the chronic underfunding of urban districts, and some would argue they make the system worse. To say the law needs a few years to gauge its effectiveness is yet another delaying tactic.

The Connecticut Supreme Court in 2010 ruled that every child is entitled to an “adequate” education, and sent the case back to the lower court to determine whether the state is providing that. Connecticut does spend a lot of money on its schools, some $3.8 billion this fiscal year. There is good reason to think that money could be spent more wisely.

But that is for a court to decide. What must not happen is for the suit to be dismissed before it is heard.

The lawsuit, and Connecticut’s students, deserve a day in court.”

You can find the Connecticut Post’s editorial here:  http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/State-students-should-get-their-day-in-court-4824907.php

It sure would be a refreshing change if our elected officials stopped spinning in circles, took the time to read this editorial and then followed the CT Post’s advice.

Don’t let the word Democrat confuse you…

Connecticut Mirror, March 22, 2010;

“The state Supreme Court [ruled] that Connecticut schoolchildren are guaranteed an adequate standard of quality in their public schools — a crucial legal victory for a coalition seeking to force a dramatic increase in state spending on education.”

Connecticut Mirror, April 10, 2013:

“State moves to dismiss long-standing challenge to education funding

Calling their demands “extreme and radical” as a trial draws nearer, the Connecticut attorney general has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed by parents and educators demanding more funding for education.

In a motion to dismiss filed earlier this year, Attorney General George C. Jepsen argues that the education problems in the complaint dating back to 2003 have since been addressed by lawmakers through the changes to state law made in 2012.”

So there you have it.  Democrat Attorney General, George Jepsen, calling the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education funding (CCJEF), “extreme and radical.”

Democratic Attorney General, telling the CT Mirror’s Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, that, “’It is too late to evaluate the adequacy of the education system that existed at the time the lawsuit was filed’…By the same token, he added, ‘It is too early to adjudicate Connecticut’s newly reformed education system.’”

However, despite Jepsen’s outrageous comments, everyone associated with Connecticut public education recognizes that the State’s ECS funding formula is at least $2 billion under-funded.  Even the Malloy Administration’s own budget director, Ben Barnes, has confirmed that number.

Even more to the point, as a Connecticut State Representative, State Senator and candidate for Governor, George Jepsen, like all major Democratic leaders, pledged to increase Connecticut’s education funding up to a level in which the state paid at least 50% of the total costs of primary and secondary education, while local property tax payers were left paying the remaining amount.

In fact, the decision to adopt an income tax was driven, in no small part, by the commitment Democrats made to shift the responsibility for funding education away from local property taxpayers and onto the state.

Now, more than 20 years later, Connecticut is far where it needs to be when it comes to adequately funding its public education system.

And now, leaders like Governor Malloy and Attorney General Jepsen are conveniently forgetting the promises they made time and time again.

As Wait, What? readers read last week, Governor Malloy was not only a supporter of the CCEJF school funding lawsuit, he was one of the initial plaintiffs in the case.

In the earlier Wait, What? post entitled, “The Dan to Dannel transformation on the most important education lawsuit in Connecticut history,” we reviewed how candidate Dan Malloy approached the most important education lawsuit of our lifetime.

That approach included a November 22, 2005 press release by Stamford Mayor and Gubernatorial Candidate Dan Malloy entitled “Malloy Supports Lawsuit Challenging Education Funding System…says that reforming the education funding system is an issue of ‘fundamental fairness.’”

As a candidate seeking votes, Malloy’s gubernatorial campaign wrote, “Stamford Mayor and Gubernatorial Candidate Dan Malloy joined fellow members of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF] today in filing a lawsuit challenging Connecticut’s existing school funding formula as inadequate. Malloy is a founding member of CCJEF coalition, which commissioned a June 2005 cost study demonstrating that 92 of Connecticut’s 166 school districts fell short of funding levels deemed to be necessary for providing children with an adequate education, as demanded under Federal and State law.”

Malloy’s press release quoted him as saying, “The bottom line is that Connecticut’s Education Cost Sharing [ECS] Formula should be scrapped and rebuilt and the State of Connecticut must finally live up to its obligation and pay its share of our education costs. The existing ECS formula has been deliberately under-funded and arbitrarily capped. This isn’t an urban versus suburban issue or a big government versus small government issue; it’s an issue of fundamental fairness. Every child in Connecticut deserves the opportunity to get an adequate education. Our constitution demands it.”

Over the years, George Jepsen claimed to be equally committed to a fairer, more equitable school funding program.  But now, as Connecticut’s Attorney General, Jepsen is asking the courts to dismiss this historic and fundamentally important lawsuit.

Instead of standing up to ensure Connecticut’s Constitution is followed, Jepsen is maneuvering to try to keep the judicial branch of government from playing the very role it was created to do.

In the recent motion to dismiss the case Jepsen wrote, “The bottom line is that plaintiffs’ extreme and radical requested relief would amount to taking the state’s funding decisions for public schools away from the citizens’ elected representatives…”

That statement is totally and absolutely untrue.

It is beyond untrue, it is an outright lie.

No one is expected the Connecticut courts to eliminate the role of the Connecticut General Assembly, and Attorney General Jepson knows that better than anyone.

The fact is that the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that Connecticut’s children have a Constitutional right to a quality education.

A series of Connecticut governors and Legislatures have refused to provide the funding necessary to fulfill that Constitutional requirement.

The lawsuit is a necessary and appropriate mechanism to ask the courts to require that governors and legislatures actually stop ducking their constitutional responsibilities

It is one thing for Attorney General Jepsen to argue that the state doesn’t want to provide sufficient funding; it would even be plausible for Attorney General Jepsen to argue that the existing funding is enough to provide a quality education, but it is beyond outrageous that any elected official, especially a Democrat, would claim that his lawsuit is radical or extreme.

By clicking the link below, you can read the full CTMIrror story, including the powerful and persuasive counter-argument to Attorney General Jepsen’ that is being put forward by State Representative Gary Holder-Winfield.  Unfortunately, a full reading of the article will drive home the appreciation that for some politicians, there is simply no limit to their willingness to say anything in their effort to stretch and twist the truth.

The complete CTMirror story is here: http://ctmirror.org/story/19681/were-education-reforms-passed-enough-derail-school-funding-lawsuit