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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

State’s high court hears appeal on right to ‘adequate’ education

Yale students fight for students' rights
By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
HARTFORD
— Yale law students argued before the state Supreme Court Tuesday in a far- reaching case that seeks to secure Connecticut students’ right to a suitable education.
The state argued students may have a right to an “equal” education, but denied the plaintiffs’ claims to an adequate education, an argument that met stiff questioning from the court.
“As long as it’s equally bad, it’s OK?” Justice Joette Katz asked.
Assistant Attorney General Gregory D’Auria, representing numerous state defendants, including Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the state Board of Education, countered, “If it’s equally bad, the Democratic process will correct that.”
“It’s not that it doesn’t matter,” he said. Rather, educational quality should be determined by the legislature, not courts.
On Nov. 22, 2005, 15 families and the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding filed suit in Superior Court seeking to secure a right to an adequate education, “more than mere minimal skills,” the suit claims.
“If a right to education doesn’t include a right to be prepared for work or a right to go on to higher education, it is hard to imagine what a right to education might mean,” said Yale law student David Noah.
“Connecticut’s educational system must prepare children who will, as adults, function as responsible citizens, compete in obtaining productive employment and advance through higher education,” the claim says.
However, money currently provided to local districts by the state is “arbitrary and not related to the actual costs of providing a suitable education,” the suit claims. “By failing to maintain an educational system that provides children with suitable and substantially equal opportunities, the state is violating plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”
Plaintiffs hail from the state’s urban and poorer regions, including Bridgeport, Hartford, East Hartford, New Britain, Plainfield, New Haven and Windham, where access to modern and adequate libraries, textbooks, special needs services, highly qualified teachers, remedial assistance, appropriate class sizes and extracurricular activities is limited, the suit claims.
In September 2007, a Superior Court judge ruled against the plaintiffs on three of four counts in the case, finding there was no constitutional right to “suitable educational opportunities.” The third count, pertaining to rights to equal education opportunities, is pending.
The plaintiffs won an expedited appeal before the Supreme Court, which will determine whether struck counts may proceed.
Don’t rush to judgment before the plaintiffs get to present evidence,” Weare argued.
Yale law students, high school students and CCJEF members packed the courtroom beyond capacity Tuesday, forcing court marshals to order those unable to find seats to leave.Also in attendance was 95-year-old retired Judge Simon Bernstein, drafter of the state’s constitutional education clause. Bernstein has filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs’ case, claiming legislation he proposed was intended to ensure all students receive a good education “that prepares them to participate in the civic life of their community.”
“When I proposed the legislation, I didn’t think in terms of adequacy. I spoke only of good education. I wasn’t concerned with a minimum…I’m no expert in education, but it’s obvious the results aren’t adequate,” he said.
CCJEF Tuesday issued five questions to Rell, asking her to “publicly commit today to the principal that every Connecticut child has the right to an adequate education.”
Rell spokesman Adam Liegeot said Rell had not read the letter and had no comment.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or ebenton@nhregister.com.

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