Judge: Connecticut education funding system unconstitutional - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Judge: Connecticut education funding system unconstitutional

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A Connecticut Superior Court judge has ruled that the state's education funding system is irrational and unconstitutional.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled Wednesday in an 11-year-old lawsuit that the state must overhaul its education system and come up with a new funding formula within 180 days to ensure the state's poorest school districts have resources to provide an adequate education.

"If test scores aren't enough, higher education realities remove any doubt that the state of failing poor students by giving them unearned degrees," Moukawsher said. 

Moukawsher had strong words in court on Wednesday and agreed with the plaintiffs, that state has been short changing the state's poorest school districts.

 "Without any reasonable doubt this breaks the state's constitutional promise of a free secondary education by making it for the neediest students, meaningless," Moukawsher said. 

Moukawsher also criticized the general assembly for recent cuts for public schools in the state's poorest cities. 

"You can not overlook the failure of our graduation standards in poor towns when a solid majority of their students are graduating unready and a solid majority in rich towns aren't having any trouble at all," Moukawsher said. 

The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding filed its lawsuit in 2005, arguing that Connecticut's current system results in more money for wealthy districts, while poorer ones suffer.

"We've talked about two Connecticut's for years where the wealthier communities are reviving a good education and not through any fault of the leaders in a lot of in these major cities," Hebert C. Rosenthal said. "But with the lack of funding and all the other issues they have to deal with in addition to education as to heavy a burden placed on those municipalities and those children are being shortchanged."

"I think this decision will jump start real discussions and policy development that will begin in the 2017 legislative session," Jim Finley, who is the lawyer for plaintiff, said. "But I think we will see the end results in the 2018 legislative session."

The state has said all public schools are adequately funded and there has been no evidence to show that spending more would lead to better test scores.

Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim reacted to the ruling. Bridgeport is one of the school district that will be directly impacted by Wednesday's ruling. 

"I think this judge did is what we call a game changer and the road map to providing the constitutionally guaranteed quality of education with funding attached to it to school children in Bridgeport and hopefully to every school district in the state," Ganim said. 

Read the complete decision here.

In a statement on Wednesday, Gov. Dannel Malloy said “We welcome the conversation this decision brings. We know that to improve outcomes for all Connecticut students and to close persistent achievement gaps, we need to challenge the status quo and take bold action. Since I took office, the state has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in education with an overwhelming share directed at supporting our students who need it the most. These investments come with greater accountability, because we know that delivering a quality education isn’t a matter of funding alone, but a matter of how valuable resources – time, money, and talent – are allocated.  These investments are working – students across the board are showing growth in math and reading on recent state tests. At the same time, we know there is more work to do and we remain resolute in our commitment to improve educational outcomes for all our students.”

Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now's CEO, Jennifer Alexander, offered a statement on the ruling.

“Judge Moukawsher’s ruling reinforces our position that money alone will not improve our public schools," she said. "We are pleased that he has called on our state leaders to make bold changes needed to ensure that students are graduating high school ready for college and career. His sweeping ruling called on lawmakers to develop a fair, predictable, transparent and sustainable way to distribute education funding that promotes excellence across all types of public schools. We applaud these principles and Judge Moukawsher’s call for bold and immediate legislative actions to close our state’s appalling opportunity gaps.”

The case is expected to end up before the state Supreme Court.

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