Connecticut High Court Rules in School Finance Case

Last Updated: April 29, 2010

This article appeared in the April 2010 Rural Policy Matters. 

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Last month, Connecticut’s Supreme Court ruled that students have the right to more than just a “free” education. Ruling in Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell, the Court wrote: "We conclude that [the state constitution] entitles Connecticut public school students to an education suitable to give them the opportunity to be responsible citizens able to participate fully in democratic institutions, such as jury service and voting."

The decision reversed a lower court’s ruling that the state constitution does not guarantee a minimum quality standard.

The Connecticut education clause states: “There shall always be free public elementary and secondary schools in the state.”

Fifteen families and the CCJEF sued Governor Jodi Rell in 2005, saying that the state’s funding system denies students in poor municipalities a suitable and equal education. The plaintiffs were represented by volunteers at the Yale Law School Education Adequacy Clinic. The arguments before the state Supreme Court took place almost two years ago.

In the ruling, the majority of judges identified four components that must be in place to meet the constitutional standard of adequacy: minimally adequate facilities; minimally adequate learning instruments; minimally adequate teaching of reasonably up-to-date curriculum; and sufficient, adequately trained teachers.

The decision also addressed another issue in the case: justiciability, or whether an issue is one that the courts have a role in deciding. As part of its decision, the lower court had held that the courts could not address the constitutionality of the state’s school funding system.

The case has been remanded to the lower court for trial. The Supreme Court’s opinion sets the “rational basis” standard of review for the remanded case, which states that the lower court should give the state’s actions a significant amount of leniency. Some analysts believe that weakens the decision.

Connecticut education advocates say the school funding formula may work, but that it has never been fully funded. Currently, localities are responsible for over 50% of the cost of schools. The formula was developed after an earlier equity lawsuit in the state, Horton v. Meskill (1977), which established a right to an education in the state.

Read more:

Local coverage of the case, including a copy of the court’s decision:

More local coverage:

This article addresses the additional funding that may be needed to meet the adequacy requirements set in the decision:

The home page of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, the group plaintiff organizations:

Read more from the April 2010 Rural Policy Matters.