ConnCAN supports lawsuit filed by parents seeking equitable public school opportunities

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (Aug. 24, 2016) — On Tuesday, four parents from Bridgeport and Hartford filed a lawsuit on behalf of their children at the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut to ensure all children have equal access to a quality education.

The lawsuit, Martinez v Malloy, is sponsored by Students Matter, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting access to quality public education through impact litigation.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Jessica Martinez, is one of 11 plaintiffs who have repeatedly tried to enroll their children in one of Connecticut’s quality public schools, but they have been blocked by state laws and a system that put politics above students and families and prevents children from attending public schools that will work best for them.

Currently, Martinez is the mother of a student attending John Winthrop School, a school where only four out of 10 students (43.3 percent) met or exceeded state achievement standards in English Language Arts on the recent statewide Smarter Balanced Assessment. In math, only two out of 10 students (18.4 percent) of Winthrop students exceeded or achieved state achievement standards.

Jennifer Alexander, chief executive officer of New Haven-based Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, or ConnCAN, said the organization supports Students Matter’s efforts because the heart of the case is aligned to ConnCAN’s core mission: access to high-quality schools for all children.

“We stand with the plaintiffs in this case who — as other civil rights and social justice advocates before them — are seeking relief from the courts when other methods have failed them,” Alexander said. “This case is fundamentally about addressing our highly inequitable access to quality schools. Our current state laws knowingly force children to attend chronically failing schools and systematically deny them access to better-performing ones. When all other methods have failed them, the parents have turned to the courts to resolve this unconstitutional inequity. “

“Generations of students have suffered because of barriers that restrict access to quality public school options, especially in areas where our students are most vulnerable. This systemic inequality of opportunity for parents and students who have few other choices hurts everyone over time. Improving these outcomes is a moral and economic imperative.”

Since ConnCAN’s founding more than a decade ago, the education advocacy organization has worked to ensure all students have access to great public schools, regardless of race, zip code or family income.

Alexander said there are three main problems with Connecticut’s laws that prevent student access to quality schools:

  • Connecticut has issued a moratorium on opening new magnet schools. In 2015, roughly 15,000 students were placed on waitlists for Hartford magnet schools or suburban public schools participating in Open Choice Enrollment.

  • Connecticut’s arcane policies have effectively capped charter school operators’ ability to open new schools or expand existing schools in the state.

  • Connecticut’s Open Choice program has structural problems that limit the number of students that recipient school districts may accept. In 2015, only 790 of the more than 2,500 students across Connecticut who participated in the lottery — just 30 percent — won a spot in one of the higher-performing Open Choice-participating schools to which they applied.

Just as Students Matter’s first case, Vergara v. California, exposed the lack of student-centered reasons for California’s quality-blind teacher employment laws, Alexander said she believes Martinez v. Malloy will take the State of Connecticut to task for education laws that benefit only special interests and the status quo.

“Connecticut lawmakers have proven either unable or unwilling to fix the laws and practices that are violating the rights of Connecticut’s students. American history shows time and time again that significant social change has been made through legal action when the other branches of government have failed to enact needed change,” Alexander said.