Advocacy group Student Matters filed a federal lawsuit in Connecticut to make education a constitutional right due to the state’s restriction on magnet, charter schools, and school choice programs. It alleges the state’s limited school choice for parents force “thousands of low-income and minority students to attend low-performing schools.” The group insists now is the time for the federal courts to recognize education as a fundamental right:
“The fundamental principles of equality in our country demand that every child have a chance to get an education, to learn and to have that platform to succeed,” said Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., an attorney for the plaintiffs.
The Washington Post reported:
An advocacy group best known for using the courts to challenge California’s teacher tenure laws has now taken its legal strategy to Connecticut, where it has sued state officials over “anti-opportunity” laws that restrict the growth of magnet and charter schools and that limit inner-city students’ ability to transfer to more affluent suburban school districts.
The California-based group Students Matter argues that those limitations trap thousands of poor and minority children in terrible schools that are failing according to Connecticut’s own rating system, violating what should be considered a right to education under the U.S. Constitution. Federal courts have never recognized a fundamental right to education, but the plaintiffs argue that they should do so now.
43 years ago, the Supreme Court “ruled in the landmark San Antonio v. Rodriguez school-funding case that education was not a constitutional right and that the disparate spending on education for students from low-income neighborhoods was not a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.” Student Matters wants the courts to reverse that decision:
“The time has come for the federal courts to recognize a federal constitutional right to some minimal, adequate level of education. We felt Connecticut was a very good place to bring it,” said Theodore J. Boutrous, one of the attorneys representing the seven student plaintiffs from low-income families.
Boutrous told reporters during a Wednesday conference call that the Rodriguez decision “left open the possibility that a claim like ours could succeed” since that case focused on school funding disparities while this lawsuit focuses on the limited options students have to leave failing schools.
The lawsuit questions the laws in Connecticut “that explicitly restrict or restrain growth of charter and magnet schools.” In 2009, the state lawmakers “passed a moratorium on spending state money for new magnet schools until the state education commissioner crafts a comprehensive plan for school choice in the state.” The department spokesperson said officials hope to have a plan by October 1.
However, state attorneys said the government will not fund new magnet schools in Hartford. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) has also stated “he doesn’t believe the state has an obligation to open more magnet schools.” He wants to use the money to improve existing schools.
Of course, Connecticut officials boasted of success in their public schools, contradicting the reasons why Student Matters chose their state for the lawsuit.
Last week, Malloy touted the release of the state’s standarized test, which shows “big improvements in our students’ learning across the board.”
ConnCAN disagrees, saying the “lawmakers have proven either unable or unwilling to fix the laws and practices that are violating the rights of Connecticut’s students.”
Lead plaintiff Jessica Martinez’s child attends at John Winthrop School, which ConnCAN reported “only four out of every 10 students met or exceeded state achievement standards in English language arts, and only two out of every 10 students met or exceeded the standards for math.” Martinez said:
“Hardworking Connecticut families must not be forced to send their children to failing schools,” said Jessica Martinez, mother of one of the student-plaintiffs in Martinez v. Malloy. “Because of rules that benefit the status quo, instead of students and parents, the schools getting it right and meeting the educational needs of our students are effectively prevented from expanding.
As urban parents, we have to work ten times as hard, be ten times as engaged, and be ten times as savvy about the system to give our children even a slim chance of getting into a quality school. Connecticut’s laws hurt and impede, rather than help us.”
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