Every student who walks through the doors each morning at one of Connecticut’s more than 1,300 public schools has their own unique skills and abilities, as well as their own needs and challenges. But despite their differences, each of these students has something in common: the right to a quality, equitably funded education. For Connecticut’s more than 74,500 students who need some type of special education service, this right is particularly important.
Deep in Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s decision in the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Educational Funding v. Rell is troubling language regarding funding for students with severe disabilities. Judge Moukawsher is correct that identifying students with disabilities remains imprecise and subjective. And yes, school funding issues are negatively and disparately impacting students with disabilities. However, the language Judge Moukawsher uses in his ruling regarding determining educational benefits for students with the most severe disabilities is disturbing at best.
he gap dividing Connecticut’s schools is much more than wealth. I would argue that it is also a gap of expectations. A major problem driving what Judge Thomas Moukawsher so aptly called the Connecticut’s “ irrational” education and financing systems is the lack of expectations for all of its students. A student can still get a high school diploma and not be able to read and write. This is because all that a Connecticut student has to do is to pass the requisite number of courses prescribed by the district and the state. However, as has been made clear over time, passing a course does not require meeting any specific literacy standard.
A recent survey of educators across the nation reveals that, when elected, Hillary Clinton may follow in the footsteps of President Obama concerning her choice of Secretary of Education in the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. Obama’s choices of Arne Duncan followed by John King were the most anti-public education appointments in the history of the Democratic party. Now it appears, based on the recent survey, that Clinton may continue the anti-public education tradition during her administration with yet another education secretary who will espouse the downward spiral of public education that has occurred for the past eight years.
Judge Thomas Moukawsher has performed a remarkable service by shining a bright light on the profoundly unfair, counterproductive, and irrational way Connecticut funds public education. While the odds against a court-overseen remedy of the type contained in his Sept. 7 order are long indeed, the children of Connecticut should hope that the governor, the State Department of Education, and the legislature seize the opportunity to make radical change.
In the wake of the recent CCJEF v. Rell trial court decision on school finance, we should take a moment to consider the continuing benefits of the Connecticut Supreme Court’s 1996 Sheff v. O’Neill decision for low income children in our state, and the importance of keeping this crucial legal mandate in place. The City of Buffalo’s experience with court-ordered integration 30 years ago is a reminder of how these independent constitutional rulings can maintain political will for reforms on behalf of low-income children that would otherwise get lost in the political process.
There‘s a lot of talk in Connecticut about closing the achievement gap between affluent students who are predominately white and poor students who are predominately black or brown, but there have been no effective actions taken and none are on the horizon.
Instead, Connecticut gave up its own well-founded state standards and adopted the narrow and inadequate Common Core Standards, called them rigorous which they are not, and gave students standardized tests to measure their achievement of those quite limited standards. Then Connecticut waited for the test scores to see if the impoverished would catch up to the affluent. They haven’t and they won’t.
On Sept. 7, there was a moment when interest-convergence was happening right in front of us. As Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher read his ruling on CCJEF v. Rell, advocates like myself started to believe that remedies for inequality were being granted permission to stand up and be recognized. To my consternation an appeal was filed. I believe this appeal, filed by Connecticut Attorney General Jepsen, represents an unqualified dismissal of potential remedies.
Despite the best of intentions, in an overly-broad ruling Judge Thomas Moukawsher has prescribed some remedies that I believe would lead us to repeat past mistakes at great cost to many. I respectfully ask the judge and state leaders to seek policies that are not just rational, but ones proven to actually work in practice. Borrowing a phrase from another judge, I argue further that many of his demands are “decided upon an economic theory” which a large part of education research does not entertain.
Last week, Judge Thomas Moukawsher released a siren call of a decision in Connecticut Coalition for Educational Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell, an 11-year-old case that has been working its way through the Connecticut Superior Courts. The recommendations on how public education in Connecticut should be funded and facilitated were detailed, thoughtful, and comprehensive. Most importantly, the court gave legislators in the General Assembly a clear directive: right the ship on school funding and educational opportunity for all students, in all districts, in the next 180 days. Democrats in the state house have the opportunity today to reclaim the mantle of social justice and fight for our children’s most basic civil rights.
Judge Thomas Moukawsher says the state’s school funding mechanism is irrational and the that state thereby failed to fulfill its mandate to thousands of schoolchildren across the state, and that the state spends this money “whimsically.”The funding formula is perhaps irrational and needs to be revised, but this judge’s decision can be described by those same two adjectives, and reflects a very basic failure to understand the problem. It seems that the decision was arrived at by looking at test scores and making the assumption that the only variable that affects these scores is financial, while neglecting the fact that there are many other variables which contribute to the quality of the outcomes.
Judge Thomas Moukawsher issued a monumental ruling last week in Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell. Based on an extensive trial that ran from January through June, the judge determined that Connecticut’s system of funding education was irrational and unconstitutional. As to his basic findings, Judge Moukawsher is to be applauded. The excellent decision came, however, with a very dark poison in it. Judge Moukawsher proposed that certain children with severe disabilities be denied a public education.