A Stunning Court Ruling

Start over.

That was the blunt message a Connecticut Superior Court judge delivered in September, ruling that the state must overhaul the way it funds public education. Ruling in a 2005 case known as Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding vs. Rell, Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher said the state was “defaulting on its constitutional duty” to ensure all students receive an adequate education. The state, he said, was letting children in low-income districts fail while helping children in wealthy districts.

What started as a funding equity issue quickly morphed into a school reform issue.

An ‘Irrational’ System
Connecticut is not alone. Other states, most notably Kansas, have similar court cases pending. Ironically, this ruling came down in a state with a long tradition of high-quality education. Connecticut is known for its top-notch public schools – but like most states, pockets of struggling schools exist.

The judge’s decision is reverberating across the country. Governors, state legislators, judges and state boards are paying attention. Judge Moukawsher called the state’s education system “irrational.”

“Requiring at least a substantially rational plan for education is a problem in this state because many of our most important policies are so befuddled or misdirected as to be irrational,” the judge wrote. “They lack real and visible links to things known to meet children’s needs.”

His key points:
·       Teachers’ compensation should not be based on years of service and graduate credit.
·       The funding of new school buildings was driven not by need, but rather by how much clout individual legislators might have.
·       The teacher evaluation system and high school graduation standards were all but meaningless.

The judge told the General Assembly it first had to determine how much money schools actually need to educate children, and then allocate funds to meet that goal. It has to decide “what you are trying to do before you decide what you are going to spend,” Moukawsher wrote.

A Complete Overhaul
The judge’s order also states that officials must submit plans to update the state’s formula for distributing education aid to districts and schools, develop a statewide high school graduation standard, and assess eighth-graders to determine their readiness for high school.

The judge ordered the state to overhaul teacher evaluations, school funding policies, graduation requirements and special education services. In fact, he said some children may be too disabled to be educated. That’s troublesome to me personally. I’m a parent and grandparent of several disabled children. To think they are not worth educating is out of the question.

Under Attack
I believe this ruling can be viewed as part of a growing backlash against “the establishment.” Many in this country are frustrated with the establishment. They believe it doesn’t work, that it’s self-serving and self-protecting.

We need to start paying attention as educators. Like it or not, school administrators are “the establishment” in many communities.This ruling, combined with issues I’ve raised in previous blogs, suggest the time has come to get serious. We must fundamentally change how we organize and fund our schools, once and for all.

It’s time. We can’t wait any longer.

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