State asks Supreme Court to speed up school funding arguments

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Connecticut Supreme Court chamber

Connecticut’s attorney general is asking the state’s Supreme Court to hear arguments in eight weeks in an appeal of a lower-court’s controversial ruling that the state’s way of distributing school aid is irrational and unconstitutional.

The request for the court to hear the case so quickly is unusual. If the court grants the request, arguments would be heard during the first week of May. The final brief in the case is due to the court by March 31.

“There is a strong public interest in prompt resolution of the important constitutional issues presented by this case. The other branches of government will benefit from having this Court’s ruling as soon as possible,” Attorney General George Jepsen wrote in a motion filed with the court Tuesday.

The request comes as legislators at the state Capitol contemplate the governor’s proposed shakeup of school funding. The legislative session ends the first week in June.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he agrees with the trial court’s core finding that gaps in achievement between the state’s most impoverished school districts and wealthier ones are worrisome and unconstitutional.

After hearing months of testimony, Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled that the state is spending enough overall on education aid, but the way it is distributed is irrational, and therefore unconstitutional.

“The state of education in some towns is alarming,” Moukawsher ruled. “Too little money is chasing too many needs… If the egregious gaps between rich and poor school districts in this state don’t require more overall state spending, they at least cry out for coherently calibrated state spending” that factors in “the special circumstances of the state’s poorest communities.”

 

He also ruled, however, that money isn’t the only problem. Rather, the way the state sets some education policies is “so befuddled or misdirected as to be irrational” and thus unconstitutional.

Malloy, a Democrat, has proposed directing more of the state’s main education grant to the state’s most impoverished districts. However, another of his proposals, which would require cities and towns to pick up a third of the cost of teacher pensions would wipe out much of those increases.

“We are not meeting the need of properly educating our children in this state,”  Malloy told reporters at the state Capitol recently. “We are failing a substantial portion” of students.

The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding – the group of parents, teachers’ unions and city leaders suing the state in the case now before the Supreme Court – seemed indifferent to the timing of arguments in their response to the state’s motion to schedule them quickly.

“Given the extensive record and the complex, and in many cases, novel questions this appeal presents, Plaintiffs believe that the Court is in the best position to determine when hearing the argument would be most beneficial for a thorough disposition of the several issues raised in this appeal, after it has had time to assess the briefs submitted by the parties,” the attorney representing CCJEF wrote the court this week.

It’s unclear when the high court will decide whether to hear the case in May.

Correction: The final brief is due March 31. A previous version of this story had the wrong date.

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