Gov. Dannel P. Malloy just signed sweeping education reform legislation and increased school aid by $100 million.
What's the link?
Malloy was mayor of Stamford and a founding member of the coalition, whose lawsuit attacks the reliance on property taxes to support public schools and challenges the state on two fronts:
1. That the state has failed to fund its public schools at a level that ensures adequate educational opportunities for all.
2. That inequities and inadequacies in the quantity and distribution of resources lessen educational quality and opportunities for success, resulting in constitutional violations that disproportionately affect African American, Latino and other minority students.
The state does contribute an estimated 37.8 percent of the $10 billion spent on education annually, according to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities report, and a governor's task force is studying the fairness of the state's Educational Cost Sharing Grant formula.
But the debate across the country has shifted in four decades from a focus on equitable education funding for all to adequate education funding, which adjusts for some students' greater needs.
Dianne Kaplan deVries, the coalition's project director, said the added state aid is welcome, but it does not address the fundamental inadequacy of the aid.
The coalition funded an adequacy study in 2005 that found state education aid to towns was short by between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, another founding member of the coalition, said Malloy's reform package made policy changes, but not as much change in funding.
That's because the Legislature did not back Malloy's changes to the school aid formula, which would have increased state aid overall, Boughton said.
"The bottom-line issue is we are on an unsustainable funding path. The state is going to face a choice. Cities and towns can't afford education given the inability to raise taxes.
"We will have to determine what is adequate funding for our children's education and hold the state's feet to the fire," Boughton said.
"It's going to take a court order to settle this. That's why we are so involved in this suit," he said.
The coalition will continue to have the services of Yale Law School's Education Adequacy Project. Both firms are working pro bono for the case, which is not expected to go to trial until July 2014.
DeVries said the state and coalition should pay for an up-to-date adequacy study that both sides can agree on, since a judge will want to see one.
"We have to figure out a base amount and figure out a fair distribution formula. It needs to be a best approximation of the cost to get the job (of education) done," deVries said.
But the case could be settled before it reaches a trial.
"We are looking forward to sitting down with Gov. Malloy and settling the case," deVries said. "That's what's happened in other states."
Malloy admitted that change is hard.
"We will not fix what's broken overnight -- we can't," he said in a statement. "But we will begin to."
This is an important conversation for the citizens of Connecticut. Until the state fully funds educational needs, true reform is not possible.