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Public Schools Brace For Likely Reforms After Connecticut Court Decision


Now a court ruling in Connecticut that could lead to some big changes in the state's schools. A superior court judge wrote yesterday that Connecticut has left rich school districts to flourish and poor school districts to flounder. Cory Turner of the NPR Ed team has more on the ruling.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: The case, like so many legal fights over school money, is older than many of the kids in Connecticut schools. It was brought back in 2005, with the plaintiffs arguing that school funding isn't spread fairly. Poor schools, they said, in cities like Bridgeport and Waterbury can't begin to compete with property-rich places like Greenwich. Yesterday, Judge Thomas Moukawsher largely agreed, saying too little money is chasing too many needs.


THOMAS MOUKAWSHER: The state would rather be a little less directly responsible. It points to a tradition of local control that it almost never brings up except to get itself out of a jam.

TURNER: Moukawsher acknowledged that Connecticut does send considerable aid to its poorest districts. But he also laid into lawmakers for recent cuts to those districts' funding. He then ordered them to come up with a new formula to provide state aid according to need. Here's the mayor of Waterbury, Neil O'Leary, after the ruling.


NEIL O'LEARY: Today, simply put, is a huge victory for impoverished, challenged and disabled children in the state of Connecticut.

TURNER: But saying this ruling was just about school money is like saying Superman is just about bold colors and good hair. The judge also faulted the state for the quality of education it provides. Moukawsher took issue with the way the state serves students with special needs and for the way it hires, pays and evaluates teachers. He wrote, there is no way to know who the best teachers are. And he argued that there's no connection currently between how teachers are paid and how well they teach.

He also called the state's standard for graduating from high school a sugar cube boat that dissolves before it's half launched. One reason - Connecticut's reliance on online credit recovery, which lets students who fail a course retake it on the computer. The picture overall was not pretty. Connecticut's Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy was eager to move on.


DANNEL MALLOY: I think quite clearly the judge is saying, hey, Connecticut, get this right, and get it right quickly. And quite frankly, I think we should get it right quickly.

TURNER: How that will happen is unclear. The judge offered a laundry list of problems but not many prescriptions. He left that for state leaders and gave them just 180 days to come up with a plan. Meanwhile, the attorney general hasn't yet decided if he'll appeal. Cory Turner, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cory Turner reports and edits for the NPR Ed team. He's helped lead several of the team's signature reporting projects, including "The Truth About America's Graduation Rate" (2015), the groundbreaking "School Money" series (2016), "Raising Kings: A Year Of Love And Struggle At Ron Brown College Prep" (2017), and the NPR Life Kit parenting podcast with Sesame Workshop (2019). His year-long investigation with NPR's Chris Arnold, "The Trouble With TEACH Grants" (2018), led the U.S. Department of Education to change the rules of a troubled federal grant program that had unfairly hurt thousands of teachers.