In Connecticut, the two foremost judicial education battles are the Sheff v. O’Neill integration case (of 27 years vintage) and the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell case (11 years old, with the latest trial having wrapped up August 10th and a ruling expected any day now).  A new lawsuit filed just last week is Martinez v. Malloy, which seeks to drive a dagger through the heart of the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared education is not a fundamental right under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

The Martinez lawsuit seeks to establish that education should at long last be explicitly recognized by the federal courts as a fundamental equal protection and due process right under the U.S. Constitution, making the case that students in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven are being forced to attend public schools the State knows have been failing for decades.  The claims are compelling:

  • More than 90 percent of the state’s lowest-performing schools are located in its 30 lowest-income school districts;
  • A State moratorium on opening more magnet schools put some 15,000 students in 2015 on wait lists for Hartford magnet schools or suburban public schools participating in the Open Choice options;
  • Wait lists for public charter schools also are burgeoning, even as the State subjects charter networks to discouraging, annual line-item funding authorizations;
  • The inter-district Open Choice lottery financially penalizes suburban districts, such that less than a third of the 2,500 students who participated in the lottery were placed in the higher-performing schools they were seeking.

What continues to astound us at Achieve Hartford! is how long lawmakers have taken to address the needs of the state’s most vulnerable children – children who represent the future workforce for the state – pretending that the same recipe for creating some of the strongest schools in the nation in our suburbs can be followed in our inner cities.

Ideological arguments against school choice options have demonized charter schools as intentionally pulling the best kids out of neighborhood schools, leaving those District schools with too high a concentration of need to be successful.  They’ve even demonized magnet schools as ruining a city’s neighborhood health by denying students access to great magnet schools right across the street from where they live.

Saddling innovative options with blame for beleaguering traditional options is no answer when the truth is that lawmakers can, with the stroke of their pen, drastically improve the fate of children in CT in so many ways.

If they don’t like the self-selection bias that impacts charter school application processes, lawmakers can change the law to mandate that charters serve the same percent of English Learner and special education students as the school down the street.  If they don’t like that Hartford kids can’t attend a magnet school across the street, lawmakers can change the magnet school applications to weight more heavily a child’s geographic proximity to the school.

There are many ideological arguments against school choice, propagated by those who want the current system systematically fixed over the next decade – and many of the arguments are good ones.  None, however, justify depriving a generation of students the higher quality school option they deserve right now.

Take it from Achieve Hartford!, one of three education advocacy groups in the state with a mission to support the local school district to become successful and economically viable.

We want nothing more than the Hartford Public School district to ensure a high quality education to every child, right now, in all schools – and for Hartford to be the first urban school district in the country to eliminate the achievement gap between our schools and suburban schools.

We can’t get there at the expense of current students’ futures.  Therefore, we embrace both school choice and neighborhood school improvement – and oppose making it a zero sum game.