As Mayor of Stamford Gov.-elect Dan Malloy was one of the first plaintiffs to join the landmark school funding lawsuit and as such he was on the winning side, but as he transitions to governor he finds himself in a very different position.
A group of Bridgeport lawmakers wanted to remind Malloy Thursday that he has the power to settle the case before a 2014 trial date where lawyers will eventually force the state to settle by adequately funding education grants to cities and towns.
Rep. Chris Caruso, head of the Bridgeport delegation, said he’s had two conversations with Malloy over the lawsuit which was brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCFEJ) in 2005. The Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision found in favor of CCFEJ in March 2010 and sent the case back to Hartford Superior Court.
He’s “expressed to me an interest in trying to work through the differences to hopefully reach a settlement,” Caruso said Thursday.
But Malloy’s spokeswoman said that’s not his most immediate goal.
“Governor-Elect Malloy’s most immediate goal in education is to hold cities harmless of Governor Rell’s cuts to the ECS formula,“ Colleen Flanagan, Malloy’s spokeswoman said Thursday.
Last year the legislature and Rell decided to use federal stimulus funds to supplant about 14 percent of the Education Cost Sharing grant it pays to cities and towns. This year that funding disappears. The state, according to Dianne Kaplan deVries, CCFEJ’s project director, currently gives cities and towns about 38 percent under the current Education Cost Sharing formula.
With the state facing what has been estimated as a $3.67 billion budget deficit in fiscal year 2011, increasing funding for any program will be a challenge for lawmakers and Malloy.
“Every time these lawsuits are brought it’s a fiscal issue,” Caruso said. “ Losing children with a poor education never goes away. It’s not an option.”
Caruso talked about coming up with creating a revenue stream to fund an increase in education aid to cities and towns, but wouldn’t say whether that was something Malloy was considering. In 2007 Rell tied an increase education aid with an increase in the income tax and a cap on property taxes. The measure ultimately failed.
“A governor can stand up and say they’re in favor of something. That’s easy,” Caruso said. “The tough challenge is to match their words with the money and make it happen.”
“As a founding member of the CCJEF coalition, and a former mayor who has struggled with the cost of funding education after the state has failed to meet its obligations, Governor-Elect Malloy is uniquely aware of the situation cities like Bridgeport are in. He thanks the Bridgeport Delegation for their interest in providing the best possible public school education to children in their city, and will consider their request,” Flanagan said.
But student plaintiffs like Angel Pizarro and Stephanie Illingworth say their Bridgeport schools could use the money now.
“Our students have books that are old, worn out, and aren’t in good condition,” Pizarro, a sophomore at Warren Harding High School in Bridgeport, said. “We should be able to open a book and look at cells that are in good condition or something we can actually read instead of reading profanity from other students who just wrote it down because they didn’t care.”
Illingworth, an eighth-grader at John Winthrop Elementary School, said because of budget cuts all the math and literacy coaches are gone.
“It’s already been 9 months since the CT Supreme Court ruled that schoolchildren have a constitutional right to a quality education, and that it’s the state’s obligation to pay for it,” deVries said.
Fixing the way the Education Cost Sharing formula is calculated by taking out the political favoritism for some cities and towns and increasing the use of regionalization are just two ways lawmakers said is could begin resolving some of the issues raised by the lawsuit.
“As the Connecticut Supreme Court said, all children —and that most certainly includes Bridgeport students and children in every other Connecticut community— all children are entitled to a public school education that adequately prepares them for continuation to college, success in the modern workplace, and full participation in our democratic institutions,“ deVries said. “A civil society depends on this, as does a vibrant economy.”
Education lawsuits are nothing new for Connecticut’s legislative body.
In the 1977 decision in “Horton v. Meskill,” the state legislature was ordered to equalize education spending. In 1996 in “Sheff vs. O’Neill,” the state’s highest court ordered the legislature to deal with desegregation.