Connecticut School Funding System Ruled Unconstitutional

Published October 21, 2016

A Connecticut judge has ruled the state’s funding system for public schools is unconstitutional because it doesn’t provide every child with an adequate education.

The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) filed a lawsuit in 2005 alleging, as CCJEF’s website states, “The state’s failure to suitably and equitably fund its public schools has irreparably harmed thousands of Connecticut schoolchildren …”

State Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled in CCJEF v. Rell in September, “Beyond a reasonable doubt, Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty to provide adequate public school opportunities because it has no rational, substantial, and verifiable plan to distribute money for education aid and school construction.”

The current system “has left rich school districts to flourish and poor school districts to flounder,” Moukawsher also said in his decision.

The New York Times reported Moukawsher gave the state government 180 days to “propose reforms ‘consistent with this opinion,’ in how it defines elementary and secondary education; evaluates and pays teachers; and identifies the need for, assesses the impact of, and pays for special-education services.”

State officials announced in September they plan to appeal Moukawsher’s ruling.

‘Enough Money in the System’

Suzanne Bates, policy director for the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, says it’s important to note Moukawsher did not say Connecticut is underfunding education.

“The interesting thing about the ruling is the judge said there’s enough money in the system,” Bates said. “Some of the plaintiffs in this case, the unions, came into the case saying they need more money. They were asking to spend another $2 billion on education. The judge said there’s enough money in the system already, but it’s just not being spent in a rational way.”

‘School Funding Is Very Political’

Josh McGee, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute, says politics complicates school funding.

“We would like to see a system where the money follows the child,” McGee said. “And maybe we could see some additional funding for special-education students. The problem is there is a lot of funding at stake. School funding is very political, and whenever politics drive [considerations], over time, it gets more convoluted.”

Bates says implementing a system where money follows the child would level the playing field.  

“We support an overhaul of the funding system,” Bates said. “Funding should be attached to the child, instead of the system. There are ways to make it fair and equitable, so if a student is living in a wealthy area or living in poverty, the funding is rational.”

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) writes from Northern Virginia.