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Yale Law Clinic Scores Legal Victory in Battle Over Quality Education in Connecticut

Yale Law clinic students fighting for all Connecticut children to have access to a quality education had a victory in court this week when a state trial court judge rejected an attempt to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the adequacy and equity of education provided in the state’s public schools.

The decision follows a lengthy court battle in which the State of Connecticut has attempted to fight a lawsuit filed by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, a statewide coalition of municipalities, local boards of education, statewide professional education associations, unions, other pro-education advocacy organizations, parents, public schoolchildren aged 18 or older, and other concerned Connecticut taxpayers. In the decision, which came down on December 5, 2013, Judge Kevin Dubay ruled that the constitutionality of Connecticut’s education funding system must be determined at a trial.

Students from Yale Law School’s Education Adequacy Project Clinic have been representing the Coalition in court, along with attorneys from a New York City firm, throughout the case.

“We are all very pleased that our hard work paid off with the court's ruling allowing the case to move forward to trial,” said Rachel Dempsey ’15. “We're looking forward to the opportunity to prove our case in the courtroom and give a voice to the needs of Connecticut's students.

In September, students appeared in court to argue against the State’s motion to dismiss, with the future of the clinic’s eight-year effort to spark reform in the State’s education system on the line. The ruling in their favor sets the stage for students of Connecticut to get their day in court, nine years after the case was initially filed. This decision follows the Connecticut Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in the plaintiffs’ favor. In the 2010 ruling, the Court found that Connecticut's Constitution guarantees public school students an adequate education.

The judge’s opinion rejected the defendants' legal arguments that 2012 education reform legislation meant that the Court should dismiss the plaintiffs’ case. The defendants argued both that it is too early to evaluate the state's educational reforms, and that the recent reforms fundamentally altered the education system in a way that cured all constitutional deficiencies in plaintiffs’ 2005 complaint. In his opinion, Judge Dubay found that the effect of the 2012 legislation on the constitutionality of Connecticut’s education system was an issue of fact that would need to be determined by the evidence at trial.

Judge Dubay also rejected the State's attempt to exclude the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding from the case. He ruled that CCJEF met all of Connecticut's legal requirements for standing, and thus had the right to bring this lawsuit. His opinion recognized that CCJEF's membership includes parents of Connecticut schoolchildren, who have a clear interest in the adequacy and equity of the state's system of education. CCJEF will remain lead plaintiff in the case, alongside individual parents of some two dozen students from ten communities across the state. Trial is scheduled for July 2014.