A landmark education funding trial was supposed to start on Sept. 9, but according to the parties involved it will be moved to January 2015 — months after the November election.
Last January, Superior Court Judge Kevin Dubay refused to push the trial past the November election as the state requested, but the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding — the group that filed the lawsuit — said Tuesday that they agreed to a trial date of Jan. 6, 2015.
The group has been fighting the state to properly fund pre-K through 12th-grade public schools since November 2005. They had been hoping in 2011, when Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took office, that he would seek to settle the lawsuit since he was one of the original plaintiffs. But it was a tough ask for a governor who was already struggling to hold cities and towns harmless when he needed to find money to replace the federal stimulus funds the previous administration had used in order to boost the Education Cost Sharing formula.
The plaintiffs have continued to put pressure on the Malloy administration to fully-fund the Education Cost Sharing formula — a move that may have been easier to do during his re-election campaign — but said they weren’t upset with the January 2015 trial date.
“The January trial date will enable CCJEF to gather information from the fall term of the 2014-15 school year and give additional time for other evidence collection.” CCJEF Project Director Dianne Kaplan deVries said Tuesday in a press release.
Former Newtown First Selectman Herb Rosenthal, who is president of CCJEF, echoed deVries’ statement.
“This is but an inconsequential delay in our decade-long struggle to make sure that school children will have their day in court,” Rosenthal said. “Moving the trial date to January can only strengthen our case and heighten our resolve.”
A spokeswoman for Attorney General George Jepsen said that the new trial date was necessary based on discovery requests.
“The state and the plaintiffs in this case agreed to the rescheduled trial date as it became clear that plaintiffs needed additional time to respond to court-approved discovery requests,” Jaclyn Falkowski said Wednesday. “We believe that a new trial date was necessary for the state to have a fair opportunity to defend this lawsuit, which seeks billions in additional taxpayer-funded education funding each year.”
In motions filed back and forth in court over the past three years, the state continues to argue that the Malloy administration has done enough to increase the Education Cost Sharing grant — an education grant that helps municipalities fund local schools. There’s also the question about if the state could even reasonably find the money to fully-fund the formula as it currently exists.
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, former head of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and now a lobbyist for CCJEF, has said the increases in funding still don’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 filed last year.
CCJEF and the named parent and student plaintiffs are represented by Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, the Yale Law School Education Adequacy Project, and David Rosen & Associates PC.
The state is represented by Attorney General George Jepsen and his staff.