The Attorney General’s office will try Monday to get a trial court judge to waive further action on a Supreme Court decision that found that all children are entitled to a quality, adequate education and the state should pay for it.
The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding sued the state in 2005, alleging that under the state Constitution students are entitled to a public education that works, and one that assures them, at minimum, an adequate education. The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed in a 4-3 decision in 2010 and sent the case back to the trial court. Motions have been filed back and forth for the past three years in anticipation of a 2014 trial.
The Attorney General’s office, which is representing the state, argues that the complaint must be based on “the educational model existing at the time of the trial,” and the 2012 education reforms and 2013 changes to the Education Cost Sharing formula approved by the legislature satisfy the Supreme Court’s decision in the case.
But the coalition of school districts and the head of the state’s largest municipal lobby disagree.
“The 2012 and 2013 legislative actions lack sufficient basis in sound education research, and the ECS formula changes were fiscally driven rather than tied to the actual cost of providing a suitable education for all children,” Dianne Kaplan deVries, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, said.
She said the funding levels remain “constitutionally insufficient.”
In court documents, Brian Mahoney, the chief financial officer at the state Education Department, said the legislature increased the Education Cost Sharing grant by $51.46 million in 2014 and $41.26 million in 2015. The boost in funding went to 119 towns and about 95 percent of it was directed at 30 of the lowest performing districts, called Alliance Districts, according to Mahoney.
But Jim Finley, CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said the increase in funding still doesn’t fully fund the formula.
“The ECS formula is intended to ‘equalize’ the ability of towns to pay for public schools at a level that ensures all students equal opportunities for educational excellence,” Finley said. “Since its inception, however, the ECS formula has never been fully funded.”
If it were fully funded it would total $2.7 billion, according to Finley.
“The actual 2012 grant was $1.89 billion, more than $763 million short of the ECS promise under the last formula which was revamped in 2007. The total ECS formula for 2013 was $1.94 billion and will be $1.99 billion in 2014 and $2.03 billion in 2015,” Finley testified in an affidavit.
The increased appropriation levels “are too small to significantly affect adequacy or equity in Connecticut,” Finley concluded.
The state argues that the plaintiffs say their complaint is about seeking educational equity, when it seems to the state that “the case is really about — and only about — obtaining significantly more state funding without any regard to other measures that are being or could be implemented to improve education.”
It says the coalition of school districts is asking the court to assume “that public education is constitutionally inadequate and will be at the time of trial, and that the only way to both determine and remedy this inadequacy is by counting the amount of money the state spends on education.”
The state argues in its briefs to the court that even facing large deficits, the state legislature and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy sought to make education a priority.
“Despite the projected deficit in Connecticut for the current fiscal year, the elected branches of government have chosen to make education a priority and have targeted money and reforms toward the lowest performing schools,” the state wrote in its motion to dismiss.
Malloy was one of the first plaintiffs to join the lawsuit when he was mayor of Stamford. Advocates were hopeful that he would settle the case before it went to trial as he transitioned into the governor’s office. He didn’t. However, a spokesman said Friday that just because the state hasn’t settled the case doesn’t mean the governor hasn’t done anything to advance the education system and increase funding every year.
“Between changes made to ECS formula and the money going to struggling school districts — both because of the education reform session and the new funding in the last session — we’re making progress in addressing this issue,” Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Malloy, said Friday.
But it’s comments like these that leave the plaintiffs scratching their heads.
“Why is the state wasting precious resources by raising such motions instead of seeking to work with CCJEF to devise a suitable funding system that supports the success of all children and their schools?” Herb Rosenthal, president of the coalition’s board, said Thursday.
The state’s Attorney General’s office declined comment in advance of Monday’s hearing, but it is expected to argue in a second motion to limit the scope of the case based on Supreme Court Justice Richard Palmer’s decision.
In his concurring opinion on the case in 2010, Palmer wrote that he believes “that the executive and legislative branches are entitled to considerable deference with respect to the determination of what it means, in practice, to provide for a minimally adequate, free public education.”
In other words, a separation of powers argument could be raised if the courts force the state legislature to spend money it may not have in order to achieve what the courts believe is a constitutional right. The plaintiff’s believe that Palmer’s opinion “might be viewed as more judicially conservative and more deferential to the legislature.”
Judge Kevin Dubay will hear oral argument on the two motions at 11 a.m. Monday in Hartford Superior Court. The case is currently scheduled to go to trial in July 2014.
Click here to read more about the 2010 decision overturning the 2007 decision in the case.