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Connecticut sued over lack of access to high-quality schools for low-income students

BRIDGEPORT — A group of parents has filed a lawsuit alleging that Connecticut’s restrictions on magnet schools, charter schools and school choice programs...

BRIDGEPORT — A group of parents has filed a lawsuit alleging that Connecticut’s restrictions on magnet schools, charter schools and school choice programs are unconstitutional and have forced thousands of low-income and minority students to attend low-performing schools.

Three parents and a grandmother from Bridgeport filed the federal suit Tuesday on behalf of seven children. Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy, state Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell and other officials are named as defendants.

The nonprofit group Students Matter of Menlo Park, California, is supporting the plaintiffs. Students Matter says the state’s restrictions, including a moratorium on new magnet and charter schools, have deepened one of the largest achievement gaps in the country.

According to ConnCAN, a state education advocacy organization seeking “access to high-quality schools for all children,” the parents have tried repeatedly to enroll their children in “quality” schools, but have been blocked by state laws. The lead plaintiff, Jessica Martinez, has a child enrolled at the John Winthrop School, where ConnCAN says only four out of every 10 students met or exceeded state achievement standards in English language arts, and only two out of every 10 students met or exceeded the standards for math.

“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,” ConnCAN CEO Jennifer 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.”

ConnCAN elaborated that due to the moratorium on new magnet schools, there were about 15,000 students on wait lists in 2015 for Hartford magnet schools and suburban schools participating in Open Choice Enrollment.

“It’s unacceptable to us that children languish on waitlists,” said Christopher Harrington, the Connecticut policy manager for the Northeast Charter Schools Network, which also commented on the suit. He added that “it should not matter a child’s ZIP code, their race, or the amount of money his or her parents make – that child is entitled to a great education. Right now, that is not the case for all of Connecticut’s children. In fact there are unnecessary barriers in place that are keeping great options at bay.

The state Education Department says Connecticut has high quality public education, as seen by record high graduation rates, rising test scores and more school options.

But ConnCAN disagrees. “Connecticut lawmakers have proven either unable or unwilling to fix the laws and practices that are violating the rights of Connecticut’s students,” Alexander said in her statement.

You can read more about the lawsuit here.