Mayors, Superintendents Meet Over Results Of Study That Could
Lead To Lawsuit
April 12, 2005
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
Mayors and school superintendents
from around the state gathered at the Legislative Office Building
Monday to hear preliminary results of an equity study for school
funding and to lay the groundwork for a potential lawsuit to
change the way the state funds education.
The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding's
preliminary report, conducted by Denver-based Augenblick, Palaich
and Associates Inc., concludes that Connecticut's large and urban
districts should spend $16,137 per pupil, moderate-sized districts
should spend $13,429 and small K-12 districts should spend $12,258.
Using those numbers, Hartford, for example, comes up around
$130 million short with a per pupil expenditure of $10,734 for
the 2003-04 school year and enrollment of around 24,000 students.
The study adjusts for high poverty, special education, limited
English language proficiency and professional judgments about
what schools need.
Every state senator and representative was invited to the presentation
- and legislation was presented as the only way to head off a
lawsuit - but only a couple of lawmakers stopped in to hear part
of the conference, sponsored by the coalition.
In the past 15 years, groups in 26 states have sued their states
to reform education funding, and 80 percent of them have succeeded,
said attorney Michael A. Rebell, the lawyer who won a $5.6 billion
judgment for New York City schools operating costs and $9.2 billion
for facilities. New York's governor has appealed the judgment.
New York's litigation took 10 years, but Rebell said that was
due, in part, to the fact that a study showing what the city
needed to make its schools equal to other districts was not completed
until years into the litigation. Ultimately, the study showed
the cost at around $16,000 per student, Rebell said.
On May 31, the consultants will release a district-by-district
analysis of ideal per pupil costs in Connecticut.
Yale Law School professor Robert A. Solomon and 12 of his students
who are working with him to prepare a lawsuit attended the conference.
Solomon and his students are dedicating their time for free.
David Sciarra, executive director for the Education Law Center
in New Jersey and the lawyer for the New Jersey plaintiffs who
successfully sued that state in the landmark case Abbott vs.
Burke, showed graphs that reflected dramatic decreases in the
achievement gap between poor and more advantaged children after
infusions of cash.
Maryland is the only state in the nation that restructured the
way public education is funded with legislation rather than litigation,
although litigation in a single district did set the stage for
lawmakers. Alvin Thornton, associate provost for academic affairs
at Howard University and leader of the state commission that
recommended the changes, attributed the noncombative way the
state addressed inequities in education funding to a few visionaries
in the legislature.
Rallies with "thousands and thousands" of
people showing support for legislative changes was critical
for keeping momentum, Thornton said.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal attended to
rally support for his planned lawsuit against the U.S. Department
of Education over what he says is inadequate funding of a mandate
to expand standardized tests.
During the three-hour conference, 10 mayors and first selectmen
from communities as varied as Hartford, Bridgeport, Danbury,
Stamford and Middletown joined almost as many superintendents
and school board members from an equally varied collection of
municipalities, including New Hartford, Wethersfield, Greenwich,
Putnam, New London and Madison.
"We need to revise the way we fund education in our state," Hartford
Mayor Eddie A. Perez said. "That means restructuring our
entire tax system. ... Schoolchildren need opportunity and we
all know opportunity costs money."
Perez and others complained bitterly about a funding structure
that they said forces local property owners to carry the burden
of paying for education and pits school boards against town councils
and taxpayer groups.
"From this day forward, we will assure that the human rights
of children are not a zero sum game where some lose," Stamford
Mayor Dannel Malloy said.
"I think the groundswell has begun," Bridgeport
Mayor John Fabrizi said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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