A federal judge has dismissed most claims in a lawsuit challenging Connecticut’s restrictions on magnet schools, charter schools and school choice programs, saying there is no fundamental right to equal education opportunity under the federal Constitution.
A group of parents and students sued state officials in 2016, saying the restrictions are unconstitutional and have forced thousands of low-income and minority students to attend low-performing public schools. The parents, including mothers from Hartford and Bridgeport, say they tried to enroll their children in limited-enrollment magnet and charter schools, but were rejected.
At issue are state laws that place a moratorium on new magnet schools, prevent public charter schools from opening or expanding, and penalize school districts that accept inner-city students under a state inter-district school choice program.
In a Sept. 28 ruling, U.S. District Judge Alvin Thompson in Hartford dismissed six of seven claims in the lawsuit. He wrote the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that education is not a fundamental right under the federal constitution.
The lawsuit’s allegations focused on the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.
The state attorney general’s office, in asking the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, said the same 1973 ruling — which came in a lawsuit that challenged the way Texas funded public education — barred federal courts from interfering with states’ sovereign right to determine public education policy.
Thompson also wrote, “The fact that the State has elected to implement limited magnet school, charter school, and Open Choice programs does not mean that its decision not to expand those programs is irrational.”
The lone remaining claim in the lawsuit alleges state officials have abdicated their constitutional duty to safeguard citizens’ civil rights. Thompson said state officials did not make an argument about that claim and gave them time to file a motion to dismiss that allegation.
Attorneys for the parents and students did not immediately return messages seeking comment Wednesday.
In January, the Connecticut Supreme Court rejected a claim by a coalition of municipalities, parents and students that the state’s educational funding formula is unconstitutional. The coalition had cited a huge gap in test scores between students in rich and poor towns.