CT Supreme Court Reverses School Funding Ruling

The Connecticut Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated decision in Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell “(CCJEF v. Rell”), which challenged the constitutional adequacy of Connecticut’s public education system. Chief Justice Chase Rogers, in what may be one of her final decisions before retiring next month, wrote the opinion for a divided court. She stated that Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher clearly violated separation of powers principles when he ruled, based on a novel constitutional standard that he created, that the state’s educational system was unconstitutional:

[W]e agree with the defendants that, having found that the educational resources provided by the state reasonably meet the minimal needs of the state’s students . . . the trial court should have concluded that the state’s educational system satisfies article eighth, § 1 [of the state constitution], and it should not have gone on to apply a constitutional standard of its own devising. By doing so, not only did the trial court fail to defer to the legislature, it also usurped the legislative responsibility to determine how additional funding, beyond the constitutionally required minimum, should be allocated and how to craft educational policies that, in its view, best balance the wide variety of interests at issue. This action was in clear violation of separation of powers principles.

Many legal observers, myself included, anticipated this decision and its separation of powers rationale.

Justices Richard Palmer, Richard Robinson and Appellate Court Judge Michael Sheldon, sitting by designation, issued a separate opinion which concurred in part and dissented in part from the majority decision. They agreed with much of the majority’s analysis, but thought that instead of directing the entry of judgment for the defendants, the case should have been remanded for a new trial.

I hope to write more about the twin decisions after reviewing them more closely.

 



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