A teacher in a classroom at Diloretto Elementary and Middle School in New Britain, a school with a large number of English learners CTMirror file photo

Connecticut has asked a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit that aims to make education a right under the U.S. Constitution.

“There is no fundamental right to education, whether minimal or otherwise, under the United States Constitution,” Assistant Attorney General Michael K. Skold wrote Monday in his motion to dismiss a case brought by a group of high-profile attorneys in August. In a previous ruling the U.S. Supreme Court “made clear that public education is a sovereign function of the states, and that it implicates a number of complicated policy choices that are for the state legislatures to make,” Skold wrote.

The lawsuit, brought on behalf of seven minority students from Hartford and Bridgeport, attacks Connecticut for its “failing public schools” and long waiting lists for access to charter or magnet schools.

The U.S. Supreme Court 43 years ago ruled 5-4 in the landmark San Antonio v. Rodriguez school-funding case that education was not a federal constitutional right and that the disparate spending on education for students from low-income neighborhoods was not a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In asking U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson to dismiss the case Monday, the state pointed to that decision.

“The court refused to allow federal courts to interfere with those local decisions under the guise of a “fundamental” right to education that is neither stated nor implied in the Constitution. To do so would upset our nation’s federal structure and improperly insert the federal judiciary into complex problems that federal courts are ill-equipped to resolve,” Skold wrote.

Allowing the federal government to get involved “would be an affront to Connecticut’s sovereignty and the important principles of federalism,” he stated.

Attorneys from Students Matter, a nonprofit advocacy group that brought national attention to teacher tenure laws with an unsuccessful lawsuit in California state courts, is well aware of the precedent.

But “the time has come for the federal courts to recognize a federal constitutional right to some minimal, adequate level of education,” Attorney Theodore J. Boutrous said the day the lawsuit was filed. The plaintiffs have until Dec. 12 to reply to Connecticut’s motion to dismiss.

This case is playing out while the state courts are questioning whether Connecticut is providing an adequate education to students in the most impoverished districts under a provision of the state constitution.

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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