A Superior Court Judge rejected the state’s request to dismiss an 8-year-old education funding lawsuit Thursday.
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.
Judge Kevin Dubay’s decision this week clears the way for a trial to begin in July.
The Attorney General’s office, which is representing the state, argued that 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. State lawyers argued that because of those legislative changes, the case should be dismissed.
In his 34-page decision, Dubay questioned whether the constitutional claims could be severed from the effects of the 2012 reforms. He concluded that the “question of the jurisdiction is intertwined with the merits of the case, and may not be severed.”
How big of an impact did those reforms have on the system? That’s a question that remains unanswered.
“There is no dispute that 2012 legislative reforms, in some respect, implicate the state’s educational system. The extent to which these reforms alter the system for the purpose of meeting constitutional standards in regard to adequacy remains in dispute,” Dubay wrote.
The state conceded that it will take time, perhaps years, to determine whether the changes the state made to the system had an impact. It argued the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding lacked standing and that the issue wasn’t ripe for discussion since it would take time for the reforms to be realized.
The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding prevailed on both claims. In a press release, it applauded Dubay’s decision calling it a “major win for children in Connecticut public schools.”
The group comprised of parents, boards of education, and municipal leaders said the opinion “sets the stage for students of Connecticut to finally get their day in court.”
A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office said they are still reviewing the decision.
“We will review the court’s decision with our client agencies and will determine the state’s course of action after appropriate review,” Jaclyn Falkowski said Thursday.
As Mayor of Stamford, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, but as soon as he was sworn into office in January 2011 he became one of the defendants. Members of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding thought Malloy’s election may help resolve the alleged underfunding of education. It didn’t.
Malloy’s budgets have increased education spending about two percent a year since he was sworn in, but the plaintiffs argue it’s still not enough.
The Education Cost Sharing formula should account for about $4 billion in annual state spending, but it’s funded at about $2 billion a year, according to Jim Finley, CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.
Finley and other town officials who are members of the coalition have submitted affidavits to the court in support of the plaintiffs.
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 it’s still not enough for the plaintiffs. Finley argues the new formula still falls short.