Which constitutional rights are more important than others?
That’s the question Judge Thomas Moukawsher is essentially asking lawyers to answer, as he hears arguments from the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding. The coalition claims the state has failed to provide an adequate education to all students.
“Is the court constitutionally fit to mandate or coerce additional state spending on education in the face of competing constitutional priorities,” Moukawsher asked.
In his opening statement, CCJEF attorney Joseph Moodhe argues that education is one area where the state is not meeting its constitutional obligation. He pointed to persistent achievement gaps between poor minority students and their wealthier, white peers -- a gap that's considered to be among the worst in the country.
"Time and again, the state itself has acknowledged the existence of these pernicious achievement gaps," Moodhe said.
Moodhe and his team of lawyers will focus on six cities: Bridgeport, New Haven, New Britain, New London, Danbury and Windham. They say the state has underfunded these school districts by tens of millions of dollars, leaving students unprepared for college or careers.
But attorneys for the state see an almost entirely different education system. Associate Attorney General Joseph Rubin pointed to several state programs that have given extra money to the poorest districts.
Hartford Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher listens to an attorney for the plaintiffs question Sharon Locke, at right, about her experiences as a district administrator in New Britain Public Schools. Locke now serves as the superintendent in Naugatuck.Credit Jacqueline Rabe / CT MirrorEdit | Remove
"Because of this massive infusion of state aid to the poorest districts, there can be no credible claim that any district has inadequate resources to provide adequate educational opportunities," Rubin said.
Even with this extra money, CCJEF argues the state's poorest school districts remain dramatically under-funded. Connecticut has grappled with budget problems for years, and the state says it's doing more than its fair share to fund schools.
The trial is expected to continue over the next several months.