State: Dismiss suit to make education a U.S. constitutional right

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.