A week after a long-awaited court decision mandated that the state must resolve disparities and shortcomings in education funding, teacher evaluations, high school graduation requirements, and a handful of other policies, Attorney General George Jepsen announced Thursday that the state would appeal.
The state’s appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court asks whether the trial court erred when it found the state’s public schools failed to provide adequate school facilities. It also asks whether the lower court erred in finding the state’s educational system violated the constitution’s equal protection clause. In addition, that state is requesting a ruling on whether the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding lacked the standing to bring the action.
In a statement, Jepsen said Hartford Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s 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.”
He said there are strong arguments to be made 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.”
However, Jepsen also said there’s nothing in the appeal that would prohibit state officials and lawmakers from getting to work on addressing the challenges highlighted by the ruling.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Chase Rogers has a week to act on the petition.
In his 90-page decision Moukawsher said the state has the responsibility to ensure education policies are created and applied “rationally, substantially, and verifiably.”
In its appeal to the Supreme Court, Associate Attorney General Joseph Rubin said that particular standard “is entirely made up and has the effect of giving the judiciary broad control over education policy.”
Rubin argues that Moukawsher overreached in his decision to essentially mandate how education policy should be determined.
“The effects of the court’s orders are particularly dismaying in light of the fact that only the legislature can change the policies about which the court expresses concern,” Rubin wrote. “If the legislature, out of deference to the court, enacts extensive changes in state law in an attempt to comply with the court’s orders, then it will have acted at the direction of a Superior Court judge, with no idea whether that judge’s view of the Constitution is correct.”
The state’s petition to appeal also asks the following:
• Should (and can) the General Assembly be compelled to create and stick to a particular school funding formula, even though it is already providing adequate educational opportunities?
• Should the state set standardized requirements for completion of elementary school and high school graduation, at the risk of holding behind disproportionate numbers of poor students?
• Should the state impose more rigorous teacher evaluation standards, perhaps outside of collective bargaining, and should those standards be based substantially on students’ standardized test scores?
• Should the state require that teachers’ pay be tied to measurable success, and should teachers in areas of greater need or difficulty be paid more?
• Should the state attempt to dictate the workings of local special education programs?”
The appeal concludes: “Each of these issues is important. Each is obviously controversial, worthy of extensive discussion, and susceptible of cogent arguments to support divergent views.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy who was once a plaintiff in the lawsuit but became a defendant when he took office in 2011 as governor, said he agreed that the distribution of education aid is irrational.
“The judge has pointed out the failure of the legislature to do things that they could have done,” Malloy said last week.
Moukawsher found the legislature largely abandoned the Education Cost Sharing formula to distribute state aid to cities and towns in 2013.
“The Attorney General’s decision to appeal does not negate the urgency to take action for students,” Malloy said Thursday in a statement. “It would be prudent to address the systemic problems in our educational system, particularly fair funding, in a serious manner once and for all in the 2017 legislative session. Legislative action is always preferable to a judicial decision.”
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, had called on Jepsen to appeal the ruling.
“Judge Moukawsher’s decision can only be characterized as overreaching by an activist judge,” Fasano said Tuesday. “His decision reads more like a legislative agenda or white paper on education policy than a judicial finding.”
Jim Finley, principal consultant to plaintiff CCJEF, said the organization is considering how to proceed with respect to the state’s decision to appeal.
“The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding is in discussion with our attorneys in regard to our legal options in light of the Attorney General’s decision to appeal the landmark CCJEF v. Rell decision,” Finley said in a statement provided to news media. “We will issue a further statement when the CCJEF membership decides on a course of action.”