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.
While there are likely a few obstacles ahead, most notably Attorney George Jepsen’s newly filed appeal, the fact is 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. It is both the constitutional and moral obligation of this state.
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. Courts have defended and upheld these basic civil rights time and again in modern history’s social justice movements. And for the last half-century, it has often been Democrats that demonstrate leadership in implementing the court’s promises.
Connecticut’s justice system laid bare the arbitrary and unjust nature of how we fund and oversee public education. Following in these footsteps, Democrats must move these priorities from the bench to the state house.
The common sense recommendations of the court, and the basic requirements outlined by Judge Moukawsher, are practical guideposts for the General Assembly to improve public education for students in every community in Connecticut. No elected leader in our state should knowingly settle for school districts that graduate, as the decision highlights, “children rising from elementary school to high school without knowing how to read, write, and do math well enough to move up.”
According to three justices of the State Supreme Court, the state Constitution “guarantees Connecticut’s public school students educational standards and resources suitable to participate in democratic institutions, and to prepare them to attain productive employment and otherwise contribute to the state’s economy or to progress on to higher education.”
Let us, as Democrats, seize this moment to show why our policies and priorities can continue to earn the confidence of voters and set a path forward for increased productivity in our state. In a time where the state finances are more challenging than ever, with budget shortfalls and a lack of confidence from many in the business community, we can show as Democrats why investing wisely and fairly in our students can be a windfall in the future for our state’s economy.
We must not settle when it comes to our children’s futures. Democrats have been leading on education for generations. Head Start was founded over 50 years ago during the Lyndon Johnson administration. More recently, we have seen the benefits of President Obama’s investments in both resources and reforms that have expanded educational opportunities, raised standards, and strengthened accountability in our schools. Thanks to Obama’s leadership, our children are reaching new heights and making incredible progress in learning and achievement.
Here in Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy has been outspoken in his support for expanding public school options for families and allocating resources to support school districts that continuously struggle to meet the most basic education standards. Senator Chris Murphy has championed high standards in the classroom and methods to measure their progress in order to elevate all students. And on Thursday, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff released a statement where he showed vision by saying, “This is a moment not to be squandered, but an opportunity to put Connecticut on the cutting edge of educational greatness for generations in the future.”
Today, in our deeply blue state where the majority of both houses of the Assembly, our governor, and our entire federal delegation are Democrats, we have the incredible opportunity to show leadership in line with our party’s past. Democrats have always maintained a tradition of fighting for social justice. Our party has never settled for mediocrity – we protect civil rights and we push to undo the injustice of systemic inequity.
We as Democrats are positioned to lead now and must unite to ensure that every child receives the high quality public education they deserve.
Amy Dowell is Connecticut State Director of Democrats for Education Reform