Last month, the Connecticut Supreme Court heard the appeal of the education case, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell. The lawsuit’s Plaintiffs, a group of students, parents and the nonprofit organization, CCJEF, sued the state, arguing that our funding formula is unconstitutional and has created extreme inequality in our education system.
I’m a Bridgeport public school parent who cares deeply about ensuring all students have access to a great education. I was in the courtroom during oral arguments, and since then, I’ve spent some time reflecting on what I heard that day. Though both sides discussed communities, schools and students like my own, I felt like our voices were absent in court. The CCJEF v. Rell appeal could’ve highlighted the direct impact of the case on families like mine, but unfortunately, the arguments missed an opportunity to address the bigger issue that impacts families across our state: our lack of access to quality schools, which leads to drastic disparities. Both sides seem to have given up, and instead seem to believe that better student outcomes for kids in urban schools can’t be achieved. As a parent who wants to see all Connecticut kids succeed, it was upsetting to watch this play out.
I have seen firsthand how inequity in funding has led to inequity across the state, and I know it is one of the main contributing factors that hinders access to great schools for too many students. I also know that kids from any background can achieve when given the right public educational opportunities. Hearing these lawyers argue that schools can’t be held accountable or that schools can’t help kids was infuriating. The truth is, we know what works.
While we wait for the state court’s decision in CCJEF v. Rell, I am looking forward to arguing that we know what is possible and great in Connecticut’s schools through the federal lawsuit, Martinez v. Malloy. Filed on behalf of myself, my son, and other Connecticut families with the help of the national nonprofit organization Students Matter, Martinez v. Malloy seeks to remove broken, outdated policies that serve as barriers to our students’ success. Just like the CCJEF v. Rell Plaintiffs, we are challenging anti-opportunity laws that restrict students’ access to great public schools, disproportionately hurt students in urban communities and increase inequality in our education system.
The premise for Martinez v. Malloy is simple. Throughout the state, we have schools that are delivering a world-class education to all students, regardless of their background. Unfortunately, we also have miles-long waitlists that prove that we don’t have enough seats to accommodate our students. For too long, Connecticut has allowed zip codes and luck to be the factors that determine which students get to attend schools with inspiring teachers and innovative STEM or world language programs. Meanwhile, state laws and policies limit the opening of new public schools and cap the enrollment at existing excellent public schools. These actions harm thousands of students like my son, disproportionately hurt students of color and students from low-income families and blatantly ignore the constitutional rights of our children.
As a parent from Bridgeport, I have personally witnessed the inequality in our education system. I have also seen what works, and have tried to enroll my son at a magnet school that will allow him to succeed in and out of the classroom, but year after year he has remained on the waitlist. It’s not fair that because my family — and the other families in our case — lives in a certain zip code, my son is denied opportunity and forced to sit on a waitlist, instead of in a classroom at a school that invests in him and sets him up for future success.
In both CCJEF v. Rell and Martinez v. Malloy, Plaintiffs are demanding answers for a broken system. We know what works, and we will not let the state or our districts continue to say it can’t be done for more students. It is time for Connecticut families and children to have their day in court, and for the State of Connecticut to do more to ensure every student across the state has access to great schools.
Jessica Martinez is a Bridgeport public school parent, a candidate for the Bridgeport Board of Education, and the Lead Plaintiff in the federal education lawsuit, Martinez v. Malloy.