It’s really no secret that, in Bridgeport, a seat at one of the city’s six high-performing magnet schools is highly coveted.
Last year alone, Bridgeport Public Schools received over 6,700 applications from K-8th-grade students, all vying for a chance at hundreds of open slots. Each year, thousands of parents pack open houses, many applying to multiple schools, which all have different applications, in hopes their children will receive a “golden ticket” — which is what some call school admittance notification letters.
That’s because, in Bridgeport and other high-poverty urban districts across Connecticut, the difference between a magnet and other schools choice, and the traditional public schools is stark.
All of Bridgeport’s magnet schools are highly-ranked. Some even show test results that are comparable to Connecticut’s affluent suburbs. On the other side of the coin, 23 of Bridgeport’s 29 elementary schools consistently score well below state average in math and reading.
Essentially, because of the limited spaces offered at high-performing schools, minority and low-income students and families in Connecticut’s urban centers are pitted against each other, all fighting to give their children a shot at something that should be a given, but isn’t: An adequate education.
One of these parents, Jessica Martinez, is now saying “enough is enough.”
Martinez spent an entire decade trying to get her 13-year-old son Jose into one of Bridgeport’s elite magnet schools, now, she’s the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit which is challenging the constitutionality of a series of Connecticut laws that have effectively capped access to seats at high-performing magnet and charter schools.
“Hardworking Connecticut families must not be forced to send their children to failing schools,” said Martinez, who lend her name to the suit, Martinez v. Malloy, and has been an active parent advocate in Bridgeport for years. “Quality schools exist in our neighborhoods, too, but their doors are open only to just a lucky few, that’s a direct result of broken state laws.”
Martinez and ten other plaintiffs, including her son Jose, a Bridgeport dad and grandparent, parents from Hartford and their children, are being backed by the Californian-based legal advocacy group, Students Matter.
Students Matter, which focuses on impact litigation promoting education equity, is most notable for arguing the Vergara v. California case, which helped bring national attention to California’s ineffective teacher tenure practices. That case was recently dismissed in the California courts.
According to Students Matter’s legal team, Martinez v. Malloy will be challenging three specific Connecticut laws:
- First, Connecticut has instituted a moratorium on new magnet schools (Public Act No. 09-6, § 22; Public Act No. 15-177, § 1), despite the fact that Connecticut’s magnet schools consistently outperform inner-city traditional district schools.
- Second, Connecticut’s laws governing charter public schools (Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 10-66ee(c)-(d), 10-66bb(a), 10-66bb(g)) prevent high-performing charter public schools from opening or expanding in the State, despite the fact that Connecticut’s few charter public schools consistently outperform inner-city traditional district schools.
- Third, Connecticut’s inter-district Open Choice enrollment program (Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 10-266aa(c), 10-266aa(e), 10-266aa(f), 10-266aa(g), 10-266aa(h)) penalizes school districts that accept students from inner-city school districts, thus dooming the viability of the very program ostensibly designed to provide Connecticut’s students with quality public school options.
In their complaint, which was filed with the U.S. District court on Tuesday, they claim that Connecticut’s “anti-opportunity laws” violate a student’s fundamental right to due process and equal protection guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
This case, much like Vergara, focuses on equity for low-income students, through this challenge is a bit different and much more groundbreaking. This isn’t just about Connecticut laws, this is about guaranteeing a student’s right to a minimally adequate education — something not currently protected by the constitution.
That’s why this suit is so monumental. This case not only challenges unfair barriers placed on students seeking placement in magnet and charter schools, but it also challenges a forty-three-year-old legal precedence.
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the landmark San Antonio v. Rodriguez case, which dealt with disparate spending on education for low-income neighborhoods in Texas, that education was not a constitutional right.
Theodore J. Boutrous, one of the attorneys representing the seven student plaintiffs, said during a conference call with the press, he believed that the courts, while they ruled against a right in the funding context, left an opening for cases like Martinez within the Rodriguez case.
“When you look at what’s going on in Connecticut, with kids on wait lists, with our clients having to wait and wait, literally having to be a lottery winner just to get a good education,” said Boutrous. “That it’s reprehensible.”
“The time has come for the federal courts to recognize a federal constitutional right to some minimal, adequate level of education.”
In case you wanted to take a look at the complaint:
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