Will our new governor and General Assembly turn a deaf ear to our at-risk students?

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PATRICK RAYCRAFT | praycraft@courant.com

Opening statements by both the plaintiffs and the defendants in the case of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, Inc., et al. v. M. Jodi Rell et al., before the state Supreme Court.

Election Day on November 6 is more than a battle of political parties for gubernatorial and legislative control. It’s an opportunity for new leaders to finally put Connecticut on the path to education justice. In January of this year, a deeply divided Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in CT Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF] v. Rell that the State was meeting its constitutional responsibility to provide a “minimally adequate” and equitable educational opportunity to our public school students.

While acknowledging that tens of thousands of at-risk students are not receiving the educational assistance they need to succeed, the court majority decided that the individualized educational needs of these students are constitutionally irrelevant.

After CCJEF’s historic 12-year legal battle, the CT Supreme Court majority decided they were powerless to intervene on behalf of our disadvantaged students and poorer school districts and passed the buck back to the two branches of state government that have consistently failed our public schools.

In the face of such callous judicial indifference to the plight of struggling poor, minority, non-English speaking and other high-need students, CCJEF looks to a new governor and the 2019 General Assembly for justice.

Specifically, CCJEF urges candidates for governor and the General Assembly to support:

Authorizing and funding an Education Adequacy Cost Study under the auspices of a re-established, resourced, and staffed Connecticut Achievement and Resource Equity in Schools [CARES] Commission [PA 17-2, June, Sec.71].

Why an education adequacy cost study?

For too long Connecticut has developed education funding policy backwards and without hard data.

For too long our state has let budget politics, special interests and last-minute backroom deals determine how much to spend on K-12 public education. Last legislative session was no exception.

State government time and time again backs into an education funding amount and then corrupts the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula and other funding programs to deliver a target spending amount. This has been the harsh reality since the inception of the ECS grant. Since 2013 state government has not even used an ECS formula to distribute school aid.

An Education Adequacy Cost Study is a necessary first step in developing a new, rational and truly constitutional education finance system in Connecticut.

Unlike the arbitrary, politics-driven efforts of the past and present, an Education Adequacy Cost Study would provide hard, real-world data on student needs and what resources are necessary to truly meet our state constitutional responsibility to deliver an adequate and equitable educational opportunity to every K-12 public school student in our state.

Connecticut’s shame is to continue to tolerate some of the most economically and racially segregated school districts in the nation.

Connecticut’s shame is to continue to tolerate one of the largest student achievement gaps in the nation.

An Education Adequacy Cost Study would ensure that the resource needs of all school districts – successful, struggling, and those in between – as well as the resources needed by regular and at-risk students are identified and quantified.

Why a new CARES Commission?

Section 71 of Public Act 17-2, June, established the Connecticut Achievement and Resource Equity in Schools [CARES] Commission. The Commission was provided no funding or substantive staff resources. Less than half the appointments were made. The commission never met. Appropriately, it had a reporting deadline of April Fool’s Day, 2018.

Legislative leadership allowed the CARES Commission to die by a not-so-benign neglect.

The narrowest of Connecticut Supreme Court majorities decided in CCJEF v. Rell to turn a deaf ear to the cries of thousands of public schoolchildren denied an adequate and equitable educational opportunity in our state.

Will our new governor and General Assembly also turn a deaf ear to our at-risk students?

Connecticut needs a new and robust CARES Commission. One that is something other than the triumph of rhetoric over action. A new CARES Commission would consider the data gleaned from an Education Adequacy Cost Study and other necessary information and develop public policy options to correct our dysfunctional and unconstitutional education finance system.

It would then be up to state policymakers and stakeholders to put educational resource needs in fiscal context, identify efficiencies and economies of scale, determine a state and local share, and rationally develop and implement an education funding formula and system that is based on actual student needs.

Let’s reject the mistakes of the past.

CCJEF urges candidates for governor and the General Assembly to support legislation that puts Connecticut on the path to education justice for all our K-12 public school students.

Please support legislation in 2019 that authorizes and funds an Education Adequacy Cost Study under the auspices of a re-established, resourced, and staffed Connecticut Achievement and Resource Equity in Schools [CARES] Commission. Give the Commission a year to do its job.

Let’s reject our Supreme Court’s idea of “minimally adequate” as the acceptable goal of our K-12 public education system.

The Supreme Court of our state has put the futures of tens of thousands of our at-risk students and the future of our state in the hands of a new governor and General Assembly.

It’s time for new leaders to lead.

Jim Finley is the president and founder of Finley Government Strategies. He serves as principal consultant to the CT Coalition for Justice in Education Funding []. He was an expert witness in the CCJEF v. Rell education adequacy and equity case. Jim spent over 34 years with the CT Conference of Municipalities, including a long-time stint as chief lobbyist and seven years as executive director and CEO.

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