Is it possible to close the education gap when unequal funding results in crumbling schools in low-income communities? Education advocates in several states are getting the courts involved to force legislators to reformulate school funding.
In an ongoing trial, equality advocates are testifying to the condition of classrooms in Connecticut’s low-income communities. According to CTMirror.org, they’re saying that East Hartford middle schools are using 24-year-old math textbooks, Bridgeport teachers don’t have enough pencils and copy paper, and New Britain cannot afford to keep teaching assistants in overcrowded kindergarten classes. And those are just a few examples.
The state’s attorneys argue that those problems don’t prove that Connecticut is failing to give all public school students a constitutionally required good quality education, CTMirror reports. The watchdog newspaper says Connecticut has an $11 billion education budget. State, federal and private funding comprises a little more than 45 percent of the funding. Local communities pick up the rest through property taxes. Consequently, schools in low-income communities have fewer resources. The advocates are calling for a new formula.
In Florida, a similar trial began in mid-March that could compel lawmakers there to remodel its education system, the Miami Herald reports.
Attorneys for the state and Citizens for Strong School, a nonprofit group, will present opening statements at the non-jury trial in Tallahassee, expected to last for five weeks. Citizens for Strong Schools v. State Bd. asks the judge to decide whether Florida has failed to provide a quality public education, as the state’s constitution requires.
Richard Milner, director of the Center for Urban Education at the University of Pittsburgh, will testify for the plaintiff. He told the Miami Herald:
“Schools in Florida are largely still not integrated, with rich white communities providing far better education than poor black schools. There are still major inequities in public education in Florida, and this lawsuit threatens to expose that.”
The group contends that lawmakers are violating a 1998 Florida constitution amendment that directs the state to make education a “paramount duty” and to operate a “high quality” public school system.
Citizens for Strong Schools argues that public school funding is fundamentally flawed. The education advocacy group points to federal data showing that Florida is among the states with the lowest level of per-pupil funding, according to the Herald.
The state counters that it has a top-notch public school system. Meghan Collins, a state Department of Education spokeswoman, said the lawsuit overlooks the state’s educational successes, the Herald reports.
If the judge sides with the plaintiffs, lawmakers may have to redesign education funding and take other steps to level the field for all students. Milner told the Herald that this could become a landmark case, triggering education reform nationwide.
This lawsuit comes on the heels of a decision by the Kansas Supreme Court that the Wichita Eagle said “threw state government into turmoil.”
In February, the court ruled that the education system was unconstitutionally unfair to students in low-income districts and ordered the legislature to fix how it funds school districts by the end of June.