Sweeping Education Ruling Appealed in CT

     (CN) — One week after a court’s long-awaited indictment of disparities and shortcomings in the Connecticut education system, the state’s attorney general has brought an appeal.
     Connecticut’s petition Thursday to the Connecticut Supreme Court asks whether Judge Thomas Moukawsher erred when in finding that the state’s public schools failed to provide adequate school facilities. Moukawsher’s finding of equal-protection-rights violations also drew objections from the state.
     The Sept. 7 ruling in Hartford Superior Court came in connection to a lawsuit filed over a decade ago by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding. Connecticut’s final contention to the state Supreme Court is that this group lacked standing to bring the action in the first place.
     In a statement, Attorney General George Jepsen said Judge 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.”
     The case merits another look, he said, in light of strong evidence that the trial court “exceeded its authority and the standards articulated by the Connecticut Supreme Court.”
     Jepsen noted, however, that nothing in the appeal is meant to prohibit state officials and lawmakers from getting to work on addressing the challenges highlighted by the ruling.
     Chief Justice Chase Rogers has a week to act on the petition by Associate Attorney General Joseph Rubin.
     In his 90-page decision, which he read to the court aloud for three hours last week, Moukawsher said the state was “defaulting on its constitutional duty” and has the responsibility to ensure education policies are created and applied “rationally, substantially, and verifiably.”
     Associate Attorney General Rubin’s appeal calls this particular standard “entirely made up.”
     Rubin argues that Moukawsher overreached in his decision to essentially mandate the determination of education policy.
     “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.”
     Rubin’s petition asks the state Supreme Court to make a series of findings.
     “Each of these issues is important,” the petition states. “Each is obviously controversial, worthy of extensive discussion, and susceptible of cogent arguments to support divergent views.”
     As follows, the questions are: “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?”
     Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was once a plaintiff in the lawsuit but became a defendant when he took office in 2011 as governor. Reacting to the ruling last week, he called the distribution of education aid irrational.
     “The judge has pointed out the failure of the legislature to do things that they could have done,” Malloy said.
     Moukawsher found the Legislature largely abandoned the Education Cost Sharing formula to distribute state aid to cities and towns in 2013.
     As to the state’s appeal, Malloy emphasized that it “does not negate the urgency to take action for students.”
     “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,” Malloy said Thursday in a statement. “Legislative action is always preferable to a judicial decision.”
     Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, supports the appeal.
     “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. “We will issue a further statement when the CCJEF membership decides on a course of action.”

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