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Connecticut still doesn’t have a fair and equitable school financing system

by Jon Pelto from Wait, What

Next Monday, on September 16, 2013, Attorney General George Jepsen, with the help and support of Governor Dannel Malloy, will go before a Connecticut Superior Court judge in an attempt to dismiss the most important school finance lawsuit in nearly five decades. In fact, the case, CCJEF v. Rell, may well be the most important school finance lawsuit in Connecticut history.

Once upon a time, when Governor Dannel Malloy was Mayor Dan Malloy of Stamford, he not only supported the CCJEF v. Rell lawsuit but was an original plaintiff in the historic battle to force the State of Connecticut to fulfill its constitutional obligation to the children of Connecticut.

As a candidate for governor, Malloy repeatedly proclaimed that he would implement a solution to Connecticut’s school finance crisis and end the need for the CCJEF v. Rell case.

But now with Malloy’s support, Connecticut’s attorney general is trying to dismiss this important case altogether.

Long before Malloy became governor, before governors Rell, Rowland, Weicker, O’Neill and Grasso, there was the famous Connecticut lawsuit of Horton v. Meskill, a case designed to force Governor Meskill and the Connecticut General Assembly to adopt a fair school financing system. In 1977, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled, “that the right to education in Connecticut is so basic and fundamental that any intrusion on the right must be strictly scrutinized.” The Court said that “public school students are entitled to equal enjoyment of the right to education, and a system of school financing that relied on local property tax revenues without regard to disparities in town wealth and that lacked significant equalizing state support was unconstitutional. It could not pass the test of strict judicial scrutiny.”

The court ordered the executive and legislative branches to develop a new school funding system.

Now, nearly four decades later, Connecticut still doesn’t have a fair and equitable school financing system.

But the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, a statewide coalition of municipalities, local boards of education, education associations, unions, pro-education advocacy organizations, parents, public schoolchildren and taxpayers, are working to change that once and for all.

Founded in 2004, the coalition filed a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut in 2005. That suit is called CCJEF v. Rell and it charges that Connecticut has failed to “adequately and equitably fund the public schools in accordance with its constitutional obligation.”

In March of 2010, the Connecticut Supreme Court took up CCJEF V. Rell and ruled all public school students in Connecticut have the constitutional right to an effective and meaningful (quality, adequate) education and CCJEF’s claim for a new public financing system was appropriate.

The Connecticut Supreme Court sent the case back to the Superior Court for a full trial on the merits and the trail is scheduled for July 2014.

But whether Governor Malloy and Attorney General Jepsen have reversed themselves and no longer believe in the constitutional right of Connecticut’s children or are simply trying to push the case past the next gubernatorial election, the duo have asked the Connecticut court to dismiss the case entirely.