The World Turned Upside Down

After 11 years of litigation, Judge Thomas Moukawsher issued a seismic decision in the CCJEF school finance lawsuit. In the decision, Moukawsher not only eviscerated Connecticut’s school finance system, he also detailed flaws in the state’s approach to teacher evaluation, teacher compensation, the lack of clear definitions of success in elementary and secondary education, and gave the state 180 days to come up with a solution to all of it.

There’s a lot to digest, but here are my initial thoughts:

  • It’s good to see the ruling bring more attention to the distribution of funding than the overall allocation. As I argued nearly two years ago, actual appropriations are not driven by the ECS formula, leading to huge funding disparities (positive and negative) that affect thousands of students.
  • I’m sympathetic with the desire for better approaches to teacher evaluation and compensation, I’m not sure the order in this ruling is the best way to actually improve how those systems operate. To paraphrase Rick Hess, while judicial orders can make people do things, it cannot make people do those things well.
  • The timeline is super-aggressive. Staffers at the Connecticut State Department of Education are going to have a busy winter.
  • Will the state’s proposed solution include magnets, charters, and/or other choice options? The state already spends a significant amount of funding on these schools and the ruling sounds like a mandate for a comprehensive solution. It will be interesting to see how they address this question.

There’s much more to digest in this decision. While the plaintiffs got a partial victory, they’re about to learn an important lesson:

Winning is easy. Governing’s harder.