Education Adequacy Project Clinic Wins 11-Year Legal Battle

After more than 11 years of litigation and an appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court, the Yale Law School’s Education Adequacy Project (EAP) Clinic has won a sweeping landmark victory for its client, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF). On September 7, 2016, Judge Thomas Moukawsher of the Connecticut Superior Court in Hartford ruled that the State of Connecticut’s public primary and secondary education system systematically deprives Connecticut’s schoolchildren of their right to an adequate education under the Connecticut Constitution. The Court applied the standards set by the Connecticut Supreme Court in 2010, when two Yale Law students argued in the Supreme Court on behalf of CCJEF. After a six-month trial in which the Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP law firm acted as lead counsel pro bono with the Clinic actively participating, Judge Moukawsher found that Connecticut is not fulfilling its non-delegable duty to provide an education based on “standards that are rationally, substantially, and verifiably connected to teaching children.”

The decision specifically found that the State’s practices violated constitutional standards in the following ways:

  • The decision found that funding for education is provided according to no formula and with no standards. Judge Moukawsher highlighted legislation in 2016 that cut millions of dollars from poorer districts while increasing funding for more well-off districts without any apparent reasoned basis.
  • The decision found that Connecticut graduates thousands of students each year who have not received an adequate education. The ruling states that the Constitution requires a rational system for determining when students have truly learned enough to merit high school graduation and a method for actually teaching students so that they meet rational standards.
  • The decision found that many students in elementary education are not learning basic literacy and numeracy skills and reasoned that the only way to establish such a high school graduation requirement is to join it with an elementary school education that develops the skills needed for secondary school.
  • The decision found that Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system was unconnected to the education of students. Judge Moukawsher said that a rational evaluation system would differentiate among teachers in a reasoned, evidence-based way.
  • The decision found that Connecticut’s special education system irrationally burdens local districts with extensive funding demands, and that students are being assigned to special education and having their needs assessed without rational guidance.
  • Judge Moukawsher ordered the State to propose remedies for each of these constitutionally deficient areas within 180 days and said that the plaintiffs would have 60 days to respond to each of the State’s proposals.

The ruling is unique among other similar suits in that it goes beyond funding to require the state to change other systems, including graduation standards and teacher evaluations. The case was originally conceived, filed, and litigated by Yale Law School students as part of the EAP Clinic under the supervision of Bob Solomon. The Clinic is now supervised by David Rosen ’69, Alex Knopp, and Alex Taubes ’15. 

Eric Chung ’17, one of the Clinic’s student directors, said, “This is a momentous day that reflects the hard work of so many dedicated students and faculty over so many years. Protecting the rights of children and students of all backgrounds was a major reason why many of us came to law school, and we’re so honored to be a part of this effort.”

Read the decision
Read the New York Times coverage of the ruling
Read an earlier piece on the Clinic

Pictured (left to right): Visiting Clinical Lecturer Alex Knopp, Visiting Clinical Lecturer Alex Taubes ’15, Eric Chung ’17, Helen Li ’17, Shannon Prince ’17, and Visiting Clinical Lecturer David Rosen ’69