Lawsuit puts Malloy in role as plaintiff and defendant
Published 6:34 pm, Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Since taking office at the beginning of this month, Gov. Dannel Malloy finds himself in an interesting position: he is both plaintiff and defendant in a lawsuit filed against the state in regards to equal education opportunities.
The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding filed a lawsuit in November 2005 alleging that the state did not enforce students' rights to adequate educational opportunities. CCJEF Project Director Dianne deVries said Malloy was one of the first plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and he was the first mayor to join a committee to fight for equal education opportunities.
"In a sense, he will remain a plaintiff because he lives and pays taxes in Stamford," deVries said. "We're confident he will find a means to address the issue of equal educational opportunities."
The lawsuit was initially filed to get the State to act, deVries said, but a lower court ruling found that students in Connecticut do not have a fundamental right to equal education opportunities under the state constitution.
"The Connecticut Supreme Court took the case on an expedited appeal and we had students at Yale who argued the case," deVries said. "It took 23 months for the courts to turn the case around."
The basis of the lawsuit states that CCJEF v. Rell (now Malloy) is an adequacy and equity lawsuit that challenges the state on two fronts. The first charge deals with inequities and inadequacies in the quality of educational services delivered across school districts and student subgroups. The second charge states there are inequities and inadequacies in the quantity and distribution of resources that impact educational quality, lessen students' opportunities for academic success and limit their future prospects.
Local towns stand to gain a great deal from a court decision that educational funding needs to be equal regardless of location.
deVries used Darien as an example.
"Darien is not a member but they should be because the town gets less money per child now then they did years ago," deVries said. "Darien tax payers are footing the bill for state education and paying a disproportionate amount of their income into the state regardless of whether they have children in school or not."
deVries said CCJEF would like to be able to make sure that all residents, especially in towns like Darien, can stay in their homes for their entire lives and not have to leave as a result of high taxes.
deVries said the supreme court eventually ruled in CCJEF's favor in March of 2010 when it was determined that the state does have a constitutional obligation to provide an equal education for all students.
"This is a very complex case and there are only about five other states with comparable lawsuits," deVries said. "Parents, children and organizations like CCJEF have no other recourse but to sue."
As part of their strategy for making sure all students have an equal educational opportunities, deVries said the demographic the organization represents is very important.
"We represent about three quarters of the minorities, special education and low-income students in the state," deVries said. "There are court protections for students who fall into those categories."
CCJEF's lawsuit has been a long, hard battle but deVries said the organization is in a good place because there is no danger of running out of money; a scenario deVries saw play out in the late '80s.
"We represented about a dozen towns but we ran out of money after five years because the law firm couldn't absorb the cost at that point," deVries said about earlier attempts to sue the state.
Shortly after the first lawsuit ended, deVries approached Malloy, who was then the Mayor of Stamford and convinced him to join the effort.
"He was one of the early leaders and his people were very active in our efforts," deVries said. "Now he has the uncanny position of being the first named defendant."
Malloy was named as a plaintiff when the lawsuit was originally filed, and former Gov. M. Jodi Rell was the first named defendant. Attorney Mark Sherman said such a scenario is rare, but in cases like the CCJEF's lawsuit, politicians often find themselves still involved in cases after they have left office or taken a new office position.
"The real issue is with the political office and not the governor himself," Sherman said. "He'll still have to reconcile this issue because he can't just come in and say things will be done the way he wants them to be."
Sherman suggested that the lawsuit could even outlast Malloy's tenure as governor if the case can't be resolved in a timely fashion.
As the lawsuit continues to unfold, deVries said CCJEF would rather see the issue resolved by sitting down with state officials rather then seeing the case play out in the papers.
"We already lost a whole generation of students when this lawsuit was first filed," deVries said. "We can't afford to lose another because this youth population is the future working force for the state and we won't remain a competitive state or nation if we don't do something now."
Realistically, deVries said there is no reason the state can't make sure that every student graduates with the skills necessary to attend a four-year college and then enter the work force with confidence.
Currently, CCJEF met the first of its deadlines for the case in December and now the group is gearing up for the next round.
"We're optimistic that we will be entering settlement discussions soon," deVries said. "People need to remember that this is not a class-action lawsuit, we're simply compiling a list of what we would like to see change."
Gov. Malloy's office did not respond to requests for comment.