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Clinic Students Argue For Adequate Education To Connecticut Supreme Court

Yale Law School’s Education Adequacy Clinic is so named because clinic members believe every student in Connecticut is entitled to, not just to an education, but an adequate education, one that prepares the student for citizenship, and for productive employment or further schooling.

On April 22, EAC members David Noah ’09 and Neil Weare ’08 got to argue their convictions on the most consequential of stages—the Connecticut Supreme Court. How successful they were depends on whether the justices agree with their interpretation of the state constitution.

“We believe that the constitutional right to education under article 8th section 1 of the Connecticut constitution guarantees each student a suitable—and not just substantially equal—educational opportunity,” said Noah, who presented the oral argument. “Basically, we think a right to education means a right to a meaningful opportunity to prepare for the world beyond school.”

Noah and Weare and about a dozen clinic colleagues, under the supervision of Yale Law School Professor Robert Solomon and Clinical Lecturers Robin Golden ’98 and Alex Knopp, originally filed suit several years ago in Hartford Superior Court on behalf of schoolchildren plaintiffs across the state and the Coalition for Justice in Education Funding. CCJEF v. Rell challenged the constitutionality of Connecticut’s education system, asserting that the state’s failure to adequately fund public schools has irreparably harmed thousands of schoolchildren.

When the Superior Court judge agreed with the state—saying Connecticut’s constitution does not guarantee a right to an adequate or suitable education—the clinic appealed directly to the state Supreme Court through a special expedited appeal. In presenting that appeal on April 22, the clinic asked the justices to allow a trial in state court, where the state’s position can be challenged.

Weare says, “We believe it’s important that the students and parents we represent have their day in court. The state apparently disagrees, believing instead that it’s the legislature’s and not the court’s role to guarantee the constitutional rights of Connecticut schoolchildren. That’s the problem, though. The legislature hasn’t provided the kinds of financial and educational resources necessary to meet the educational needs of thousands of schoolchildren across the state. We believe court action will provide a catalyst for the legislature to live up to its constitutional duty to all students, no matter what town they live in.”

If the justices agree, the case will continue, and clinic students will have another day in court. The students, who are providing pro bono counsel in the case and are, in turn, receiving pro bono assistance from New York-based law firm Paul Weiss, expressed confidence in their arguments and say they look forward to the Supreme Court’s decision, expected sometime in the summer.

“It’s not hard to believe in the fundamental importance of offering every child, regardless of race, wealth, or geography, the right to an education that puts them in good stead to navigate the world beyond high school,” said Noah. “Further, many of the clinic students, including myself, used to be public school teachers. So the issue is personal for many of us.”

Professor Robert Solomon praised the work of the students, saying it was an amazing team effort. “David and Neil did a spectacular job in the argument,” said Professor Solomon. “They were incredibly well prepared, thanks to the efforts of their EAP classmates, who worked on briefs and memos, researched every conceivable issue that might come up in argument, and mooted them over and over again. The team did everything in its power to strive for and achieve excellence in presenting the case.”