Litigation best chance to improve education in New London

In a recent editorial, ("Court shouldn't set school funding policy," April 14), The Day lashed out at the CCJEF v. Rell lawsuit, accusing the courts of "acting as social engineers and legislators, rather than sticking to their role of addressing questions of law and constitutionality." That case, brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding in 2005 and scheduled for trial in July 2014, stems from plaintiffs' claims that the state has failed to meet its constitutional obligations to adequately and equitably fund the public schools.

Contrary to what The Day publishers would have readers believe, the CCJEF case is precisely an instance of the courts addressing extremely important questions of law and constitutionality on an issue that has broad and lasting public policy implications here in Connecticut. In short, the courts are being asked to enforce and protect school children's civil rights to equal and adequate educational opportunity.

What's at stake in the CCJEF lawsuit are the resources that New London's schools and countless others across the state are starved for, such as: preschool for all 3- and 4-year olds, and full-day kindergarten; enough teachers to ensure smaller class sizes and extra assistance for struggling students; improved services for English-language learners and children requiring special education; updated textbooks, library materials, and computer technologies; sufficient numbers of social workers, school psychologists, guidance staff, nurses, and custodians; well-maintained buildings and grounds; afterschool programs as part of a longer school day, and expanded summer school for students who need to catch up.

Both the City of New London and the Board of Education are members of CCJEF, as are many local families and dozens of other communities across the state. In addition to CCJEF, two New London children are among the 25 named school-children plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Rather than attempt to settle the case as a win-win for both the state and students, the Malloy administration hopes to outrun the courts by adding 2.6 percent to the state aid formula, with 95 percent of the increase going to the 30 lowest-performing/lowest-wealth districts, an increase amounting to about $300 per student for New London. At the same time, the governor proposed redirecting state aid to municipalities, part of which would be relabeled as education aid, further tightening the fiscal screws on New London. Educational funding in this state is broken, and this Band-Aid allows the state to continue to shirk its constitutional obligations to our children.

Legislating certain education reforms that have little prospect for improving student learning is another ploy being used by the administration to further delay the case while waiting for years to see whether any so-called reforms might actually work.

Astonishingly, The Day seems to have drunk the state's Kool-Aid rather than to dig into the extraordinary data underlying this case, cheer on the hometown team, or just remain neutral.

Aside from state funding to ensure New London school children equal and adequate educational opportunity, what is also at stake in the CCJEF case is the hope of the state assuming a substantially larger share of school funding statewide, which in turn should lead to meaningful property tax relief.

Given the well-known issues in New London with its property tax base, this lawsuit offers the only viable relief available. The relief being sought by the CCJEF case could not be more urgently needed by the City of New London and its public schools. Contrary to what the attorney general may claim, there's nothing "extreme and radical" about it.

This case deserves to be strongly supported by all New Londoners and residents of Connecticut, including by the press, for the sake of our school children, property taxpayers, and a future competitive workforce prepared to drive economic recovery and revitalize our communities.

Susan Asselin-Connolly, is a member of the CCJEF Steering Committee. She lives in New London.

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