By the end of this year, Ct. students may receive the best gift of all – guaranteed equal opportunity to a quality education when the Supreme Court decides the nine-year old Ct. Coalition for Justice in Educational Funding v. Rell case. In a suit started in 2004, plaintiffs, towns, local boards of education, professional associations and unions as well as parents and students, filed suit declaring while the state did provide an education for all students, the funding for the Education Cost Sharing, the reliance on property taxes, and the cap on special education costs did not afford an equal opportunity to a quality education.
In many ways CCJEF v. Rell continues the discussion started in 1977 with the Horton v. Meskill case. The Supreme Court ruled the state’s flat funding amount to all districts unfairly penalized children in less affluent districts. Horton v. Meskill found education is a fundamental right. CCJEF v. Rell seeks to expand that right to not just an education, but one that is equal in quality and the opportunities that come from a quality education.
As Ct. districts rely heavily on property taxes, towns that are more rural or more urban do not have the tax base to provide the same caliber of education many suburban towns do. Adding to that, urban districts face the trinity of higher populations of poor, ELL, and special education students. These require more monies to ensure students can reach the same starting line as students from districts that do not face those challenges or have the funding to address them. In addition to this, the Education Cost Sharing grant, a formula the state uses to calculate how much districts will receive, has never been fully funded in its 23-year existence and was flat funded from 2010 through 2013. Four years of flat funding during a time when most towns struggled to endure the Great Recession have left many of the neediest districts – and their students – unable to provide even an adequate education.
The CCJEF has three objectives with this suit. It seeks a revamping of the Education Cost Sharing grant to reflect the actual cost of educating students, including an increase in the foundation base that districts get and a cap for the most affluent districts. CCJEF wants to ensure adequate and equitable funding is distributed fairly to all students and municipalities, including more funding to defray special education costs for all districts. The most ambitious objective is the shifting of the lion’s share of funding away from local property taxes to the state. Should the Supreme Court rule in favor of CCJEF it will set a bar for the quality of education every CT. student is entitled to and can expect regardless of their town.