Connecticut Attorney General Jepsen to appeal CCJEF v. Rell ruling

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Claiming that the State of Connecticut “far exceeds” what it needs to spend on public education, Attorney General George Jepsen announced today that he will appeal the recent court decision in the CCJEF v. Rell school funding lawsuit.

While Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled Connecticut’s school funding program was irrational and unconstitutional, the judge went far afield of the actual case, using his decision to condemn Connecticut’s teachers and public schools and promoting his own version of a corporate education reform agenda.

An appeal will mean Connecticut’s Supreme Court will eventually weigh in on the ruling and confirm whether Connecticut’s elected officials must finally address Connecticut’s broken school funding formula.

The following is Attorney General Jepsen’s statement;

Statement from AG Jepsen on Next Steps in CCJEF v. Rell

Attorney General George Jepsen today issued the following statement to announce that the state will seek a direct appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court of the ruling issued by the Superior Court last week in the case of Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell:

“Under our system of government, state education policy is determined by the Legislative and Executive Branches and implemented under a strong tradition of local control by municipal school boards and, ultimately, teachers. This decision would wrest educational policy from the representative branches of state government, limit public education for some students with special needs, create additional municipal mandates concerning graduation and other standards, and alter the basic terms of educators’ employment – and entrust all of those matters to the discretion of a single, unelected judge.

“For the public and legislators to trust the legitimacy of such a dramatically new system and the policies it produces, they must know that the ruling mandating it is legally correct. There are strong arguments that the trial court exceeded its authority and the standards articulated by the Connecticut Supreme Court, and so today we are asking that court to review this ruling.

“Despite its order, the trial court correctly determined that the state far exceeds its minimum constitutional obligations for providing equitable access to adequate education. Nevertheless, the ruling identified profound educational challenges that remain and must continue to receive serious and sustained attention – and action – at every level of government. Nothing about this appeal prevents policymakers from immediately addressing those challenges, and I urge them to do so without delay.”

More about this development and previous media coverage via links below:

CCJEF V. RELL MEDIA COVERAGE

CT Mirror

9/7/16 – Judge strikes down state education aid choices as ‘irrational’

9/7/16 – Ruling may end ‘hold harmless’ principle in CT budget politics

9/12/16 – For David Rosen, 11 years in court just a beginning in school case (New Haven Independent)

9/13/16 – Malloy, a plaintiff and then a defendant, hedges on school appeal

9/15/16 Jepsen files appeal, says Moukawsher school ruling ‘legally unsupported’

Hartford Courant

9/7/16 – Court Orders Far-Reaching Reforms for Public Schools and   CCJEF Ruling Press Conference

9/8/16 – Legislature Must Draft A New Deal For CT Education

9/9/16 – Lawmakers Scramble To Craft Response To Judge’s Education Ruling

9/15/16 State Appeals Controversial Education Overhaul Decision

CT Newsjunkie

9/7/16 Judge Orders State To Make Sweeping Changes To Education Funding, Policies

9/15/16 State Appeals Education Ruling to Supreme Court

Stamford Advocate

9/11/16 – Wendy Lecker: Will equity without adequacy be enough to help Connecticut’s neediest children?

Connecticut Post

9/7/16 Judge says state’s school funding formula is irrational

9/9/16 –After ruling on school finding, officials ponder next step

9/15/16 – State to appeal decision on school funding

New York Times

9/7/16 Judge, Citing Inequality, Orders Connecticut to Overhaul Its School System

9/11/16 – In Connecticut, a Wealth Gap Divides Neighboring Schools

9/12/16 – A Holistic Ruling on Broken Schools

Links to the actual decision

Hartford Courant – http://www.courant.com/education/hc-read-ccjef-v-rell-20160907-htmlstory.html

CT Mirror – https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3100630-School-Funding-Decision.html

Judicial Department – http://jud.ct.gov/CCJEFvRell.pdf

 

Related Statements:

CEA CEA Leaders Respond to CCJEF v. Rell Decision

AFT – Comments on Court Decision in Historic State Education Funding Case

CCM – CCM INITIAL STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO SUPERIOR COURT DECISION IN CCJEF V. RELL SCHOOL-FUNDING DECISION

Educators 4 Excellence – Educators 4 Excellence-Connecticut reacts to ruling of CCJEF v. Rell lawsuit

ConnCAN – CONNCAN ISSUES STATEMENT IN CCJEF COURT CASE

 

Commentary pieces:

Education Ruling: OK To Shut Out Disabled Kids?

Tell state officials: Don’t appeal CCJEF ruling

Did one Connecticut judge just change the conversation about education inequality?

The Aftermath Of The CCJEF Ruling: What Is Next For Public Education In Connecticut?

Judge correctly identified need for systemic public education overhaul

In Perplexing Decision, Connecticut Judge Fails to Raise the Bar for Adequate School Funding

Asked about the critically important CCJEF v. Rell case, Malloy tells media he isn’t Governor Jodi Rell

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It was another classic Wait, What? moment with Dannel Malloy at the helm.

When the CCJEF v. Rell school funding lawsuit was filed 11 years ago, Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy was a plaintiff in the case, one of a number of local elected officials who decried the fact that Connecticut’s system of school funding was unfair, inadequate and unconstitutional.

Then, Malloy become Connecticut’s governor in January 2011 and immediately did, “a 180.”  Instead of using his position to settle the lawsuit and develop a funding formula that would be fair and constitutional, Malloy lead the charge to dismiss, disrupt and upend the case that would have benefited the children, parents, teachers and taxpayers of Stamford and Connecticut’s other poorer cities and towns.

Malloy not only squandered the opportunity to develop a constitutionally adequate school funding system, he used his budget authority to make the state’s school funding programs even more unfair.

Last week came the initial trial ruling on the CCJEF v. Rell case.  Connecticut superior court judge went so far as to say that not only is Connecticut’s school funding system unconstitutional, it is irrational.

So will Malloy and his administration appeal the decision to the Connecticut Supreme Court or not?

In a press conference yesterday (Tuesday, September 13, 2016) Malloy ducked the all-important issue claiming that since his name was Dan Malloy and not Jodi Rell, it wasn’t his responsibility to recommend whether the state of Connecticut should or should not appeal the controversial decision.

Instead he told reporters to go talk to Attorney General George Jepsen, the very state official Malloy has worked so closely with in their effort to dismiss and destroy the CCJEF lawsuit.

The New Haven Independent captured Malloy’s interaction on the subject, reporting the following in a story entitled, Malloy: Ask Jepsen,

Don’t ask Dannel P. Malloy how Connecticut will respond to a judge’s landmark ruling ordering sweeping changes in the state’s education system. After all, his name’s not on the lawsuit.

So the governor said when pressed by reporters at an unrelated New Haven press conference Tuesday afternoon for his take on Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s 254-page ruling last week in Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell.

The 11-year-old lawsuit sought fairer educational funding for poorer school districts.

Judge Moukawsher went further. He not only ordered the state to distribute its education aid to local cities and towns more rationally and fairly (though not necessarily to spend more money overall). He also ordered new standards for high school graduation, for distributing special-education aid, for evaluating teachers. And to present a plan to do all that in 180 days.

Malloy was mayor of Stamford when the coalition originally filed that suit. He in fact joined the coalition. He was a plaintiff.

Now he’s the governor — not “Rell,” aka Jodi Rell, who was governor at the time of the filing. Malloy is now in effect the defendant, not the plaintiff.

So, reporters asked: Will he direct the attorney general to appeal the ruling?

Malloy responded that it’s not his call. Technically, Attorney General George Jepsen will have to decide whether the state appeals the ruling. And Malloy, who usually prides himself as a driving force behind state policy, said he plans not to try to influence Jepsen’s decision.

[…]

Malloy said he agrees with much of what Judge Moukawsher wrote in his decision: “You know why I think he made very valid points? Because I’ve been making the same points for the past five years.” He also said he disagrees with some of the decision, particularly the timetable; given that some of the decisions involve the legislative process, he questioned whether the state can meet the 180-day deadline.

CT Mirror reporter Mark Pazniokas didn’t let Malloy off the hook. Following is a partial transcript of his follow-up questions and Malloy’s responses.

Malloy: The attorney general needs to do what the attorney general needs to do.

Pazniokas: The lawsuit, after all, is “CCJEF vs. Rell.” The attorney general’s office is charged with doing the defense. They are not the defendant. You in effect are.

Malloy: My name’s not Rell.

Pazniokas: But if you were elected a little bit earlier, “Malloy” would be the defendant. The State Department of Education is in effect the client …

Malloy: I’m not fighting you. I’m not trying to get away from giving you a true answer and a factual answer. It’s a very involved decision. If the attorney general believes that it needs clarification, that it needs final judgement status … I am telling you that I am in agreement with large portions of this decision. And particularly on those points that I have made for the past five years.

Pazniokas: I just want to be clear … You are saying it is entirely George Jepsen and his team, his decision to appeal? You are not going to express a view to the attorney general’s office about whether to appeal at this point?

Malloy: If this was a simpler decision, if it was written on five pages and made statements solely about funding or the distribution of funds, then maybe it wouldn’t even be necessary to even be considering appealing. What I’m telling you is I have enough confidence in the attorney general and his staff that they’ll make the right decision. And I will support that decision. …

The primary purpose as you understood and I understood it when I brought it, then I’m largely in agreement [with the decision]. I don’t know what else to tell you.

I’ve answered it. enough.

Pazniokas: Again, I want to be clear. My question didn’t suggest that you would dictate what the attorney general would do. What’ I’m asking is: So you’re not going to participate in a conversation with him about an admittedly very complex …

Malloy: … Listen. I’m not running from this. I’ll participate in any discussion the attorney general wants to have with me about this subject … I’m even acknowledging that it may have gone beyond the scope of the original proceedings as drafted, as represented in the pleadings. So that may lead people in a particular direction. But if you’re asking me about the core purpose of this lawsuit — and that is how we distribute money for education — I am largely in agreement.

Call it just another day in Malloy’s world of leadership and policy….

You can read and comment on the full New Haven Independent story at: http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/malloy_ask_jepsen/

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

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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/

ALERT – Malloy/Wyman attack on parents, students, teachers, public schools (and the “out-out” movement) is a national disgrace

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Yesterday, lawyers for Governor Dannel Malloy, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman and Attorney General George Jepsen spent the day in a Connecticut courtroom arguing to a judge in the CCJEF v. Rell School Funding Lawsuit why the state should not be held accountable for failing to provide Connecticut’s children with their constitutionally guaranteed right to a quality education.

We can be sure of one thing.  If a Republican governor was engaged in such an unethical and immoral approach to Connecticut’s school funding system, Democratic officials would be leading the demonstrations demanding that the state of Connecticut settle the lawsuit and fulfill their obligation to our state’s children.

But Malloy, Wyman and Jepsen claim the “Democratic Party” label and thus there was nothing but silence yesterday from Democratic Party officials.

Meanwhile, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education is not only preparing to take the stand against Connecticut’s children in the critically important CCJEF School Funding Lawsuit, but she is leading the Malloy/Wyman administration’s inappropriate attack on students, parents and the public school administrators who were honest and truthful, last spring, about a parent’s right to opt their child out of the disastrous Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme.

Although there is no federal or state law, regulation or legal policy that prevents a Connecticut parent from refusing to have their child participate in the unfair and discriminatory Common Core Testing Program, that truth isn’t stopping the Malloy administration from reaching out to punish the school districts that didn’t “prevent” parents from utilizing their inalienable right to opt out of the testing.

The attack on Connecticut school districts that “allowed” children to be opted out is nothing short of reprehensible and the Malloy administration’s tactics are becoming a national disgrace.

Dr. Daniel Katz is a New Jersey-based educator, university professor, expert on preparing special education teachers for the classroom and a fellow education blogger.  From his vantage point, Daniel Katz has been watching Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration’s attack on students, parents, teachers and public education with disgust.

In his latest column entitled, Connecticut Recommends Thumbscrews, Daniel Katz writes;

Connecticut’s Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy does not always grab attention in the annals of corporate education reform.  Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has made battles with public unions more central to his image.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie plainly relishes getting to act “tough” and yell at teachers questioning his agenda. Democratic Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel shuttered 50 public schools, mostly serving ethnic minority children, in one go, without caring to listen at all to the residents of the impacted neighborhoods.  Neighboring governor and fellow Democrat Andrew Cuomo of New York staked a huge portion of his agenda for 2015 on ramming through controversial education reforms, and his approval rating both overall and especially on education have tanked in a highly visible manner.  Compared to headline grabbers like these, Governor Malloy does not seem to get much attention.

Which is a shame because when it comes to the Holy Trinity of education reform – common standards, standardized testing tied to punitive consequences, and preference for charter schools over district schools, Governor Malloy is the complete package. In 2012, he called for major changes to teacher tenure in Connecticut, earning praise from ConnCAN, an education reform group promoting charter schools.  Facing push back from teachers and parents about the pace and nature of education reforms, Governor Malloy was forced to call for a “slow down” in the pace of reforms, especially tying teacher evaluations to standardized test results.  $91,000 in campaign donations flowed to Connecticut Democrats from a single wealthy businessman and charter school advocate, Jonathan Sackler, and three members of his family; those donations and others from Wall Street were rewarded with proposals for over $21 million in new charter school funding while public school spending remains flat.

It is pretty clear that Governor Malloy stands shoulder to shoulder with New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel even if he prefers to draw less national attention to himself.  So it is perhaps not surprising that his education department is contemplating thumbscrews for the Opt Out movement in Connecticut.

Opt Out was not the force in Connecticut that it was in neighboring New York with only 11,200 students not taking the state exams while the state says 267,000 did.  However, a number of individual districts did not meet the 95% testing requirement of No Child Left Behind which was continued in the new Every Child Succeeds Acts, and in some districts those numbers were significant. Roughly 7 out of 10 high school juniors opted out in Stonington, and participation fell below 95% in over 30 communities.

This Fall, roughly a dozen states got a letter from Ann Whalen at the US Department of Education, an adviser who is acting as the assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, reminding them that their districts need to test no less than 95 percent of all students and that the state needs an action plan to deal with those who do not.  The letter opens by reminding state chief education officers of the legal requirements to test all children in grades 3-8 and once in high schools, that the examinations must be same for all students, and no student may be excluded from the examinations.  Ms. Whalen asserts that the sections of the law she cites “set out the rule that all students must be assessed.” The letter continues to remind the state officers that both their state and local authorities who receive Title I, Part A money assured that they would test all students in accordance with the law.  Ms. Whalen also offers “suggestions” for actions state education authorities can take to address participation in the assessments:

  • Lowering an LEA’s or school’s rating in the State’s accountability system or amending the system flag an LEA or school with a low participation rate.
  • Counting non-participants as non-proficient in accountability determinations.
  • Requiring an LEA or school to develop an improvement plan, or take corrective actions to ensure that all students participate in the statewide assessments in the future, and providing the SEA’s process to review and monitor such plans.
  • Requiring an LEA or school to implement additional interventions aligned with the reason for low student participation, or even if the state’s accountability system does not officially designate schools for such interventions.
  • Designating an LEA or school as “high risk,” or a comparable status under the State’s laws and regulations, with a clear explanation for the implications of such a designation.
  • Withholding or directing use of State aid and/or funding flexibility.

Ms. Whalen also reminds the states that they have “a range of other enforcement actions” including placing conditions on Title I, Part A grants or even withholding them.  For a real kicker, she goes on to say that if states with less than 95% participation in the 2014-2015 school year do not assess 95% of students this year, then the federal education department “will take one or more of the following actions: (1) withhold Title I, Part A State administration funds; (2) place the State’s Title I, Part A grant on high-risk and direct the State to use a portion of its Title I State administrative funds to address low participation rates; or (3) withhold or redirect Title VI State assessment funds.”

Short version: States with Opt Out numbers that put them or local districts below 95% test participation must bargain, cajole, plead, or threaten districts and schools into making that target.  The Federal Education Department has put in writing that not only failure to take action to address low assessment rates, but also failure to meet the 95% target this year, WILL result in some form of punitive action from Washington.  Presumably, the degree of the punishment will depend upon how vigorous the state actions are.  It is also safe to assume that the Education Department offices in Washington have a new logo:

Connecticut got its own version of this letter from Dr. Monique Chism in the office of state support, and Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education Dr. Dianna Wentzell quietly sent the state’s reply on December 4th, waiting until December 28th to release it to the public. In the letter, Dr. Wentzell assures Washington that although Connecticut met the 95% participation rate statewide, they are “not pleased” that a number of districts did not do so, and the state has devised a tiered intervention system to “ensure that districts meeting the standard are commended, those failing marginally are gently alerted, and those falling behind are strongly reminded of the potential consequences and provided support to remedy the situation in 2015-2016.”  In the next school year, Connecticut’s accountability system will “lower a school by one category for low participation rates in the 2015-2016 year.”  The system is explained in a graphic:

Districts in Connecticut are now warned: if your test participation rates were below 80% in any category, funds WILL be withheld if this year’s participation rate is not at least 90%.

SDE consequences

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This remains as problematic as it has been every time the federal government or a state entity has raised it.  Yes, it is true that federal law requires that at least 95 percent of all students in all subcategories are tested in the participating grades.  Yes, it is true that state and local officials have to do what they can to test the students in the participating grades and have almost no legal authority to exempt any of those students.  However, the statute was written to prevent states and local school authorities from hiding low performing student populations from accountability systems.  I challenge Dr. Wentzell, Dr. Chism, or Ms. Whalen to find a single line of statutory authority to compel parents to submit their children for examination or to find any legislative intent in the original NCLB legislation or its successor to punish schools and districts for not exerting 95% control of the parents in their district.  There have been schools since 2001 who have not managed to test 95% of their students, but there is not a single example of a school being punished for that.

In the end, Connecticut, at the prodding of the Federal Education Department, is setting itself up for an unpleasant confrontation with parents, often parents that elected officials find difficult to ignore, with very shaky legal footing.  North Haven High School, for example, had extremely low participation rates on the 11th grade exams.  The community also has a median home value $22,000 above the state median and median household income $16,000 above the state median.  With only 4% of its residents below the poverty line compared to the state average of over 10% it is unlikely that North Haven’s schools rely significantly upon Title I funds, so it is unclear exactly what money Dr. Wentzell would withhold.  However, the loss of any money intended to help children who are in poverty based upon actions of parents rather than upon actions of school authorities is unprecedented, contrary to the intention of any federal and state accountability laws – and far more likely to increase the parental backlash than to bottle it up.

While Governor Malloy, Lt. Governor Wyman and Attorney General George Jepsen don’t face the votes this year, Connecticut’s legislators do.  In this battle between the Malloy administration and Connecticut’s public schools, state senators and state representatives would do well to be clear about whose side they are on… Are they going to stand with Malloy or with Connecticut’s students, parents and teachers?

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

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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

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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

The money needs to be returned, People need to be fired.

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Merging the Connecticut State University and the Community Colleges was a disaster in the making.  Search Wait, What? for some of the earlier posts on the subject.  Most disappointing of all is that the people who allowed it to happen knew better and yet actively helped push through Malloy’s plan.

Now, as a by-product of that mistake, 21 employees of the new Board of Regents have been illegally sharing hundreds of thousands of dollars in pay raises, on top of their excessive salaries.

According to the Hartford Courant, “Under pressure from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Board of Regents President Robert A. Kennedy on Wednesday suspended more than $250,000 worth of salary raises for 21 staff members that he had approved — improperly — over the past 10 months.”

Hello?

The raises were ILLEGAL…You can’t suspend ILLEGAL RAISES.  What you can do is require that the money be repaid and fire the people who failed to follow the law.

According to the Hartford Courant story, the Mr. Kennedy, “also announced that Michael Meotti, the board’s executive vice president who decided this week to forgo his almost $48,000 raise, would also return the additional pay that he has received since the raise took effect on June 29.”

Hello?

The raises were ILLEGAL.  If you illegally receive public funds you do not get to keep it.  It is not one of those optional things.  Let’s see, should I or shouldn’t I keep the public money I received illegally?

Meanwhile Governor Malloy’s chief attorney, Andrew McDonald, said these actions came after the Governor, “strongly urged them” to take action.  McDonald added, “There’s no formal authority by the governor over the board. Our effort was more from a perspective of persuasion than instruction.”

Wait, What?

The Governor appointed 9 of the 13 members of the Board of Regents.  The Governor personally recruited Robert Kennedy to serve as President of the Board of Regents…

The raises were ILLEGAL. If a state employee acts illegally, the Governor must take action regardless of whether he calls it “perspective of persuasion” or “instruction.”

McDonald also said that the raises “might be illegal, but that would have to be determined by a judge. It’s not incorrect to say unauthorized and improper.”

Wait, Wait, What?

The language of the statute could not be clearer.  The law that Malloy proposed, the Legislature adopted and Malloy signed into law says that only the Board of Regents can set the compensation of employees who work for the Board of Regents.  The Board did not adopt these raises.  It might be illegal?  It is improper?  Only a judge?

Do they forget we have state auditors? Do they forget the authority (obligation) they have to apply the written law to state activities?

Meanwhile, the CTNewswjunkie’s story includes the news that, “Attorney General George Jepsen said he has not been asked for a formal opinion on the propriety of the raises, but he indicated that they probably were inappropriate.”

Are we on American’s Funniest Home Videos or something?

Last I checked the Attorney General has the authority to simply say…you can’t do it, because it is illegal!

But if necessary, on behalf of the people of Connecticut, please accept this as a “formal” request for a “formal opinion.”

And not to be outdone, Mr. Kennedy, the President of the Board of Regents told reporters, “There was no intent to deceive or mislead, but it’s clear that I could have and should have handled this differently and in the future I will,” Kennedy said.

It is almost as if the President of the Board of Trustees, who makes $340,000 plus an extraordinary compensation page, (and his entire senior staff) are now saying that they failed to follow the law because they unintentionally failed to read the law.

If you read the various news articles, you find additional information, but they all point toward the same conclusions; the taxpayer’s money needs to be returned and people need to be fired.

Jepsen/Malloy Continue to Squander the Opportunity of a Lifetime;

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Sometimes you’re just left shaking your head; wondering what on earth has happened to our “Leaders.”

A few months ago, Attorney General George Jepsen, with the direct approval of Governor Dannel Malloy, filed a legal motion in an attempt ensure that Early Childhood Education was not included in the definition of what the Connecticut Supreme Court called the “adequate education” that is guaranteed in the Connecticut Constitution.

Now, Attorney General Jepsen has filed an unprecedented subpoena seeking tens of thousands of pages of documents belonging to ten of the school districts that brought the now-famous CCJEF vs. Rell lawsuit that led the Supreme Court to define what an “adequate education” meant.

At the very same time that Governor Dannel Malloy says that reforming education in Connecticut includes reducing red-tape and paperwork, his own Attorney General is taking an action that could cost the ten towns as much as a million dollars to find, copy and deliver these documents to Jepsen’s Office.

Dianne Kaplan deVries, the executive director of CCJEF, called the unwarranted attack nothing short of “harassment” of those school districts that had the courage to stand up for Connecticut’s children.  She added “No district could be expected to comply with such an enormously onerous production order.” (Jepsen’s office has ordered them to turn over all records within 30 days).

Speaking for Jepsen, his associate attorney general said that “The Office of the Attorney General is obligated to defend the lawsuit” pointing out that it was school districts that filed the “unprecedented and far-reaching lawsuit against the state, alleging that the state has failed to provide adequate education to school children and seeking court orders dramatically expanding the state’s financial support of local education.”

Of course it was the towns that filed the lawsuit.  Governors Weicker, Rowland and Rell, along with the support of Democratic legislatures, consistently reduced state support for education.  It was the state government that was breaking the law and failing to fulfill its “Constitutional responsibilities”.  The towns did what they had to do in order to force the state to do the right thing.

With a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Attorney General, both of whom have repeatedly said education is a top priority, now is the perfect time to finally settle the case and move forward with building a better and more effective system of education In Connecticut.

Instead, George Jepsen (with the support of Governor Malloy) is spending millions of dollars trying to remove early education from the definition of what children are entitled to and is attempting to punish the people trying to ensure that  “education is a “top priority.”

A good summary of this latest fiasco can be found at CTNewsjunkie http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/education_group_calls_state_subpoena_of_schools_harassment/#.TzEDvTalHRI.facebook.

But first, please read the following.  It makes it painfully clear that when it comes to politics and policy there are people out there who say one thing and do another;

In 2005, a coalition of municipal and education leaders came together to confront the greatest challenge of our times, how to develop and fund an education system that provides all children with the knowledge and skills to compete in the decades ahead.  The very future of our economy and our quality of life rests with whether we develop or undermine our state’s greatest natural resource…that being the talents of our citizens and future generations.

It was truly an historic moment and Dan Malloy, the Mayor of Stamford, was there.  Not only was Mayor Malloy one of the founding members but he was “the first mayor to join the effort to join the committee dedicated to equal education for all.”  Today over 100 municipalities have joined the cause.

The foundation upon which this historic effort is built was a lawsuit filed by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF).  Known as CCJEF vs. Rell, the coalition sued the state of Connecticut claiming that the state’s approach to funding education failed to provide students with their right to “adequate educational opportunities”.

While the initial court ruled that “students in Connecticut do not have a fundamental right to equal education opportunities under the state constitution,” the Connecticut State Supreme took on the case.

Twenty three months later, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court and determined that the Connecticut State Constitution “guarantees all schoolchildren an adequate education, one that prepares them to participate in democratic institutions, obtain gainful employment, and continue on to higher education.”

Across the state and across the nation the decision was heralded as one of the most important education cases in history.

Back in 2005, when the suit was filed, Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy published a commentary piece in the Hartford Courant that called on the state to immediately increase its level of state funding for education to 50 percent of the total costs associated with funding the state’s primary and secondary schools. (Over the past two decades, the state’s share had dropped from a high of 44 percent to a new low of about 35 percent).

Malloy wrote “The Rowland and Rell administrations have very deliberately and systemically under-funded local education in the state budget as a means of shifting costs to local government. Quite frankly, that’s why we have a property tax crisis in this State. While John Rowland bragged about tax cuts, local government picked up the burden — and the result is a combination of inadequate education and skyrocketing property taxes.”

And Malloy added “Connecticut has a moral obligation to provide every child with an adequate education — regardless of race, income, or geography. We are saying today that Connecticut also has a Constitutional obligation. In the absence of gubernatorial leadership on this issue, the lawsuit filed today calls attention to one of the most significant problems existing in Connecticut today.” (Dan Malloy 2005)

Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision, gubernatorial candidate  Dan Malloy said “I began these efforts years ago because I firmly believed that the state was not honoring its constitutional requirement and the funding formula for education in poor and urban communities was not fair to those communities.”  (Dan Malloy 1/23/2010)

A few months later, State Senator Andrew McDonald, who now serves as Malloy’s Legal Counsel called the lawsuit the single greatest hope for change saying “This litigation effort holds the promise of a wholesale redefinition of how education is funded in the state” (Andrew McDonald 5/10/2010)

So here we are in 2012.  Time after time our elected officials and their senior advisers have said this suit was vitally important and now – when they have a real opportunity to make the difference they promised – they are squandering it.

They are squandering the opportunity of a lifetime.

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

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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.

George Jepsen: Missing His Legacy Moment;

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George Jepsen (courtesy of CTPost)

You could call it the most important legal issue of the year.

You can certainly call it the biggest action George Jepsen has taken as Connecticut’s Attorney General.  In fact, it may just be Jepsen’s biggest move in his twenty three years or so in elective office.

The “IT” is the decision by George Jepsen, with the backing of Governor Malloy to carve out early education from the definition of education when it comes to ensuring the our state and local governments meet their Constitutional obligation to provide our children with a quality education.

The latest can be found in a news article today filed by Christine Stuart at CTNewsjunkie http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/early_childhood_advocates_arent_giving_up_their_fight/

The fact is that Connecticut’s educational achievement gap is not only the nations largest but the single greatest threat to Connecticut’s future.  Unless this pattern is altered Connecticut simply won’t have the workforce it needs to survive, let alone prosper by the year 2030.  And parenthetically, for those who care, it will also mean less fulfilling and successful lives for hundreds of thousands of citizens.

Every elected official talks about Connecticut’s stunning achievement gap and virtually every elected officials knows that early childhood education is the single most important step we can take to ensure more successful educational outcomes.

And that, in turn, brings us back to the motion that Attorney General Jepsen filed with theConnecticutcourt to remove early childhood education from the definition of education as defined by the Connecticut State Constitution.

In response to Christine Stuart’s questions, Malloy and Jepsen claimed that the decision to proceed with this legal maneuver is not whether they support early education but whether a constitutionally guaranteed right to an education includes access to early education.

And that, I would submit is exactly the point.

This is not about whether Jepsen and Malloy have been advocates of early childhood education.

Sadly, few elected officials have a real opportunity to make a fundamental difference in the future.  Many have long careers and yet never once have a lasting impact or create a legacy that will make a city, state, nation or the world a better place for generations to come.

This is not about whether the state motion to carve out of early childhood could be successful.  It is about laying the foundation for decades, even generations, to come.  There was nothing – nothing at all – that required Jepsen and Malloy to file this motion.

Malloy’s defense was that although he supported asking the courts to carve out early childhood education from the definition of education “that does not mean we shouldn’t be committed to early childhood education.”

Governor, as hard as this might be to believe, this isn’t about you or your past support for early childhood education.  It’s about what happens after you have completed your tenure.  It is about positioning early childhood education for 2020, 2030, 2040 and beyond.

It is about creating a legacy by making a fundamental difference in our state’s future.

Malloy told Stuart he supports the Connecticut Constitution, but does not believe that early childhood education is part of the definition of education that is guaranteed by the state’s Constitution.  He then added, if the courts decide differently “so be it.”

So be it?

The issue is actually not about whether the Constitution guarantees access to early childhood education.  The issue is about actively trying to remove early education from the long-term definition of what is required to provide children with a quality education.

Of everything that has been said, the single most absurd comment came from Attorney General Jepsen himself when he told CTNewsjunkie “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.”

George, if future attorney generals or anti-education advocates wanted to raise that issue they could.

However, this is your legacy moment.

This is where you could have said that you believed that the definition of quality education means a successful education and that, in turn, requires early childhood educational experiences and you won’t be a party to trying to remove that fact from this important legal case.

Adding insult to injury, Mayor Dan Malloy was actually one of the original supporters of this case – a lawsuit brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding.  It was their successful lawsuit that will provide the foundation for education funding for the next 50 years.

And at the very moment that George Jepson and Dannel Malloy needed to stand up and be counted on this issue, they used their authority to move in exactly the wrong direction.

As State Representative Gary Holder-Winfield of New Haven put it in Stuart’s article, this motion is really saying that the “future of our children in this state is connected to the vagaries of elections.”

It just doesn’t get any clearer than that.

George Jepsen could still withdraw the motion.  If it doesn’t he will have truly failed to capture his legacy moment.

My previous posts on this issue can be found through the following links:

http://jonpelto.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/early-childhood-education-blog-post-part-ii-are-jepsen-and-malloy-wrong-on-this-issue/

http://jonpelto.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/forget-race-to-the-top-connecticut%E2%80%99s-education-policy-takes-a-terrible-tumble/

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