Tell state officials: Don’t appeal CCJEF ruling

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An open letter to the members of the Parent Teacher Organization Council (PTOC):

As many of you know, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) vs. Rell lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Connecticut’s system of education funding was decided this week. Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher determined that the State has violated the constitutional rights of our students by distributing school funding in a way he described as “irrational.”

There were many things at issue in this case but among the most relevant was the State’s reliance on property value as an indicator of town wealth.  The idea is that wealthy towns are more able to self-support their school systems than towns with high levels of poverty.  This system, however, unfairly penalized communities like Norwalk and Stamford which have high property values (due to our proximity to New York City) but also high levels of poverty.  The State has taken no regard of the fact that more than half of Norwalk’s school children live at an income level that qualifies them for free and reduced lunch and many live below the poverty line. 

Over the years Norwalk has transferred millions of dollars in potential school funding to other communities around the state and received very little in return.  In fact, only about 10 percent of our school budget comes from state ECS funding versus some 75 percent in Bridgeport.  Even towns within our District Reference Group (DRG) which share similar demographics, such as Danbury, receive disproportionately more state aide than Norwalk.  Owing to this we are forced to fund the vast majority of our education budget through regressive property taxes.

Over the past 12 years the State of Connecticut has spent millions of dollars fighting to preserve this inequitable system.  They are widely expected to appeal the court’s ruling.  As a community of parents and citizens we need to make our voices heard. I would like you to consider writing letters on behalf of your school parent organization to our local legislators and to State officials urging them to comply with the court’s order and revise education funding now.  Relevant recipients would include:


Local Officials:


Rep. Chris Perone ( 137th)

State Capitol, Room 110

Hartford, CT 06106-1591

[email protected]


Rep. Bruce Morris (140th)

Legislative Office Building, Room 5004

Hartford, CT 06106-1591

[email protected]


Rep. Terrie Wood (141st)

Legislative Office Building, Room 4200

Hartford, CT 06106-1591

[email protected]


Rep. Fred Wilms (142nd)

Legislative Office Building, Room 4200

Hartford, CT 06106

[email protected]


Rep. Gail Lavielle (143rd)

Legislative Office Building, Room 4200

Hartford, CT 06106

[email protected]


Sen. Bob Duff (25th)

Legislative Office Building, Room 3300

Hartford, CT 06106-1591

[email protected]



State Officials:


Education Committee

Legislative Office Building, Room 3100

Hartford, CT 06106

[email protected]


George Jepsen

Attorney General of Connecticut

55 Elm Street

Hartford, CT 06106

[email protected]


Dannel Malloy

Governor of Connecticut

State Capitol

210 Capitol Avenue

Hartford, CT 06106



I am grateful for the work of former Mayor Alex Knopp and his team at Yale; to the CCJEF staff; to the Board of Education; the City of Norwalk and to Mayor Harry Rilling for their commitment to see that all children receive an equal opportunity for success.  Thank you all for your ongoing efforts in support of our students,

Michael Byrne

Michael Byrne is PTOC president.


Diane Lauricella September 10, 2016 at 6:48 am

Wholeheartedly agree!

The time has come to do that reality check. I found the Judge’s directive inspirational and wise.

Please write and call all of these officials and implore them to make right past poor policy and practice.

It does not make sense to appeal this! Roll up your sleeves, state of CT, this is an opportunity, not a lost case…..

Terrific, patient team, including former Mayor Knopp and current Mayor Rilling.

Bravo, Judge.

M. Jeffry Spahr September 10, 2016 at 10:20 am

Okay — so the CCJEF decision has been out for a few days now and we have all read (or skimmed) news articles on it or heard quick blurbs about it on the news. We have all heard that the Judge has called the State’s spending on and funding of education in Connecticut as being “irrational”. We have noted that the decision calls for changes in special education as well as in other areas. But what changes are called for? What was considered so “irrational” about special education programs and funding in our State? Well, the devil is in the details. I will give you the link to the case below. I will tell you that the section of the Decision that discusses the judge’s take on special education is in Section 8 (“The state’s program of special education spending irrational”)[pp. 71-86].
One of the foci of the Decision is the determination that Districts spend too much money on those students who would really not benefit from the effort. Basically, so why try (and spend the money)?
As the Court put it:
“Neither federal law nor educational logic says that schools have to spend fruitlessly on some at the expense of others in need. Medical services including physical and occupational therapy may help some multiply-disabled children and may be an important social service. When they are ‘related services’ to educating children …IDEA says schools must supply them. But when they have no substantial connection to education no one says they have to be paid for out of education budgets” [p. 80] *** (but see below)
I guess you could argue philosophically that if you had a comatose child that the law would not require that the School District take on the expense of bringing the child (life support equipment and all) into the classroom or to send out a tutor to ‘instruct’ a non-responsive ‘student’. But who makes the call in less drastic cases? When does a child become someone worthy of attempting to educate — and when do they become the ‘lost cause’.
The Court continues:
“This kind of spending is hard to square with seeing the constitution requiring a substantial, rational, and verifiable connection between things schools do and things that teach kids. That thinking must at least require schools to spend education money on education. It means schools shouldn’t be forced to spend their education budgets on other social needs — however laudable– at the expense of special education children who can learn and all the other children who can learn along with them. The first step is for schools to identify and focus their efforts on those disabled students who can profit from some form of elementary and secondary education. This will require state standards to address this issue and require school districts to make the necessary judgements”.
Whoa ! Let me repeat and expand upon what the Court said:
“The first step is for schools to identify and focus their efforts on those disabled students who can profit from some form of elementary and secondary education [and to separate out those students that are hopeless and lost causes and not spend money on them].
Again, am I saying that the Districts should spend money pointlessly in the ‘hopeless’ case? NO. But — my concern is who gets to make that call? The School District who stands to profit from walking away from a child?
The remedy for this that the Court proposes is for the State to adopt “standards to address this issue”. Thereafter, it will be up to the school districts “to make the necessary judgments”. What about the input of the parents? Or the child? Or at least the PPT (“team” — Principal’s puppet or otherwise)?
Accordingly, Norwalk SPEDPartners waves the ‘caution’ flag over this aspect of the Decision. We need to be vigilant watchdogs and must oversee the legislative process at least as it grapples with the issue of creating standards that will be used to decide whether and when a child will be entitled to receive special education and related services (or whether they will be determined to be a ‘hopeless case’).
M. Jeffry Spahr, Esq.
On Behalf of Norwalk SPEDPartners
Here is the link to the Decision:
fn ***On the other hand, Reg. Section 300.34(a) defines “Related Services” as and including the following:
“(a)General. Related services means transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpreting services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, including therapeutic recreation, early identification and assessment of disabilities in children, counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services, and medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes. Related services also include school health services and school nurse services, social work services in schools, and parent counseling and training”.

M. Murray September 10, 2016 at 10:40 am

Diane, I guess the broader question is what is the intention of school and education? What are we trying to educate our children to do? Is their a goal of education? Is the goal of the school to educate children for a purpose? Is it to provide a break for parents? Is it to educate them? Socialize them? Does the law of diminishing returns come into play here?

Piberman September 10, 2016 at 1:49 pm

Kudos to Mr. Spahr for thoughtful and insight comments. Odds look pretty good at this point that the Governor and Democratic controlled Legislature will use the Judge’s decision as the “whip” to do what they’ve failed to do for decades. Especially with the Governor reported leaving to join the Clinton administration. Sen. Duff hinted as much when he declared a “historic opportunity”. Last thing CT Democrats want is for the ECS to be a major issue in the upcoming elections when the GOP sees a serious chance of gaining control of the House and even the Governors seat. Citizens concerned about implementing a more rational ECS formula have the obligation to contact their Legisaltors and demand action, not more talk. Of course the wrinkle here is the vigorous opposition of CT’s powerful teachers unions. Those interested in detailed discussion of the Judge’s historic decision will find the Hartford Courant helpful. All told this may ultimately be the most important Legisaltive initiative in decades with our own Sen. Duff taking a “lead role”. Maybe our other local Legislators will decide to get actively involved. No matter how it plays out those seeking a major funding ECS increase for Norwalk need look at the “numbers”. And focus on the enormous disparities between per student outlays in our “welfare cities” and the rest of the State. Reducing our City’s punitive tax burden depressing local properties requires more competent City management. Not ECS monies from heaven. So contact our Legisaltors !

R.L. September 14, 2016 at 5:56 am

“Yet school officials never consider the possibility that the education appropriate for some students may be extremely limited because they are too profoundly disabled to get any benefit from an elementary or secondary school education….It is about whether schools can decide in an education plan for a covered child that the child has a minimal or no chance for education, and therefore the school should not make expensive, extensive, and ultimately proforma efforts..”
I have to say that I agree with the judge on this one to a large degree. I have a very large percentage of SPED students in my classroom, always. Many of these students are in way over their head and, frankly, shouldn’t be in the class. They should be learning the math of how to balance a checkbook or they should be learning how to interact in an acceptable manner with others. Some people will never “master” algebra II. In Hartford we have to teach to the level of the child, not the expectations of the class. That is the directive. How can you give a kid credit for learning how to add in an algebra class and give them credit for the algebra class? That is the absolute norm in Hartford. That is why our graduates are so deficient. When you teach a full class with generally 50% (it would be more if the district wasn’t afraid of over-identifying) of the class being either ELL, SPED, or both with little to no “push in”, the other students are absolutely being denied their right to a free and public education. At least to the level of what would be considered a “quality” education. The curriculum becomes irrelevant. Throw in those who are behaviorally dysfunctional and are in need of serious psychological support, and you have a zoo. Hence, you have your poor schools throughout the country in crisis. I’m not saying that resources shouldn’t be allocated to help those at a disadvantage to be able to learn to a point where they can achieve some sort of personal success. What I’m saying is that those who are on, or could be on, a more academic track (YES I SAID TRACK, tracking works!) should not be denied simply because we want to pretend everyone has the same capacity for learning. Full inclusion is a disaster! Why do you think charters and magnets sound good to people? They aren’t escaping a bad school necessarily, they are escaping a dis-eased portion of their community. The dis-ease being poverty and the actual physiological effects it has on the brain. People look to charters and magnets because they discriminate against those who have IEPs or don’t speak English. It’s systemic tracking.
Fixing education would not be so hard. Everyone should have the opportunity. However, those who desire the opportunity should not be sacrificed to those who refuse the opportunity and are put into the same classrooms. Those who need services should be provided those services, but not at the expense of those who don’t require services. Anyone should be able to take any class, just pass the prerequisite. I believe this is more of the way it was before the dark days of Adamowski. A comprehensive high school offers much more choice than a smattering of small academies and magnets offering classes based on a theme. All of those new school buildings must have been very expensive. I bet we lost a lot of our services to them.

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