State seeks to delay education-funding trial until after election
The state is asking that the trial over whether Connecticut is spending enough money on education be pushed back until after the gubernatorial election in the fall.
The trial, scheduled to begin July 1, would be delayed 15 months if a Hartford Superior Court judge grants the request by the state attorney general.
“The stakes in this case are enormous,” Associate Attorney General Joseph Rubin writes in his request to delay the trial to October 2015. He emphasizes that the plaintiffs’ allegations that the state underfunds education by $2 billion a year is completely outdated at this point since it relies on a 2005 cost study.
“When the stakes are this high, the defendants, on behalf of the taxpayers in Connecticut, are entitled to know and understand the plaintiffs’ case, not as it existed four or more years ago, but as it will actually be presented at trial,” Rubin wrote.
The state argues that the plaintiffs -– a group of mayors, parents and leaders of teachers’ unions — need to update their complaint and experts’ reports to reflect the current educational landscape, which warrants delaying the trial. The state’s top lawyer in its motion to delay the trial points to recent increases in education spending and new education reform laws that seek to improve the problems school districts face. Over the last three years, the state has increased funding for the Education Cost Sharing grant — the main grant the state gives to districts to cover education-related expenses — by $101 million, or 2 percent.
Judge Kevin Dubay last month rejected the state’s request to throw out the case because of these recent changes, saying the merits of the reforms in improving education are something that need to be resolved during a trial.
But the plaintiffs in the case call the recent changes “minor” and say students have already waited eight years for their day in court.
Since its inception in 2005, the lawsuit has attracted a lot of support, with mayors from Bridgeport, East Hartford, Hartford, New Haven, Windham and Stamford joining forces with the leaders of the state’s two teachers’ unions to sue the state.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was mayor of Stamford at the time, also joined the suit.
Since then, 25 parents of children attending school in Bridgeport, Danbury, East Hartford, Hartford, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Plainfield and Windham have also joined the suit.
“Defendants are responsible for delay,” attorney Helen V. Cantwell writes on behalf of the plaintiffs. “The interests of justice would be better served by a scheduling order that preserves the July 1, 2014 trial date.”
Cantwell points out that their experts can testify about the current condition of the educational funding structure at trial, that the State Department of Education continues to reject their requests for information so they can prepare for trial, and that the state has blown through several deadlines for reporting their expert witnesses.
“Any alleged logistical challenges defendants now claim they face in preparing for a July 2014 trial are a direct result of their own flagrant disregard for the Scheduling Order. Simply put, plaintiffs deserve their day in court,” Cantwell writes.
Among the scholastic problems listed in the lawsuit are large class sizes, high dropout rates, students who are not ready academically being promoted to the next grade, low performance on standardized tests and not enough money available to the districts to resolve these problems.
“Once in the school [these factors] increase the chance that these students will become part of the educational underclass,” the lawsuit alleges.
The timing of the trial -– four months before the gubernatorial election –- couldn’t be worse for Malloy, as it would shine a light on the question of whether Connecticut under his leadership has done enough to provide an adequate education for every student.
Malloy’s education commissioner, Stefan Pryor, Wednesday directed all questions to the Office of the Attorney General.
In a prepared statement, a spokeswoman for the office, Jacklyn Falkowski, wrote, “Of primary concern, the plaintiffs rely on expert witnesses whose opinions are based on the educational and funding system as it was years in the past. The state is entitled to know before trial what those experts think of the current state of education and the impacts on it of the Governor’s comprehensive education reforms.
“We have no interest in delaying this case for delay’s sake, but we do insist that the state’s taxpayers are entitled to receive a fair hearing,” Falkowski’s statement said.
The judge will hear arguments over when the trial should begin next Thursday in Hartford.
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