CCJEF v. Rell: A Ground Level View of Education in CT

The case Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell continues with testimony from educators and administrators on the ground level providing an insight into what the current education funding system does to our state’s students. The Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities has joined the case as an amicus due to the impact underfunded schools have on minority and disabled students. As part of our blog’s continuing coverage of the case, we’ll be looking at recent testimony and how it relates to the work of the CHRO. You can find previous posts on the case here.

Witnesses so far have focused a great deal on the practical effects of Connecticut’s current education funding system. Principal Elsa Saavedra-Rodriguez of Smalley Academy in New Britain, for example, testified about how the lack of funding for her school has led to student suffering. Smalley Academy has about 750 students and only 40 teachers crammed inside an aging facility with heating so poor that students and staff have to wear coats inside during the winter. Due to the small size of the building, not all classes can be taught in a traditional classroom and some students have to learn while sitting in the cafeteria or auditorium.

The case of Smalley Academy is particularly troubling given the demographics of the population it serves. Over 70% of Smalley’s students are Hispanic, 13% are African-American, 9% are White, and the remainders are of other racial/ethnic backgrounds.  The school houses a total of 110 special education students and 162 English-Language Learners. The poor funding allotted this school is disproportionate to the number of students served in comparison to schools in other towns. As a result, Smalley Academy students receive an inferior education and fewer opportunities than those living just a few miles away in a different district.

The impact of poor funding is not just felt in the quality of the facilities but in the quality of teachers underfunded schools can attract. Professor of Education Policy and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of Maryland Dr. Jennifer Rice testified about teacher quality at impoverished schools. She described how high-poverty schools are “doubly disadvantaged” because a higher percentage of teachers are not “highly qualified” in the areas of math and science, as opposed to teachers in wealthier schools.  Dr. Rice stated that students in these schools should have access to at least equal, if not more, educational resources, because they have greater needs than students in wealthier districts. Without funding to attract the quality of teachers needed, students will fall behind their peers and miss out on opportunities later in life.

Similar situations have been described by teachers and administrators from across the state. Through no fault of their own, Connecticut’s most vulnerable students are having opportunities denied them because of a broken education funding system. The Commission will continue to be involved in this case and provide updates as the case goes on.