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Feds toss out challenge of Connecticut choice law

October 9, 2018

A federal court has dismissed a lawsuit that challenged restrictions on Connecticut charter and magnet schools.

The suit, Martinez v Malloy, carries the name of Jessica Martinez, a Bridgeport school board member on behalf of her son. It will be appealed according to Manny Rivera, a spokesman for Student First, the California nonprofit that backed the challenge.

In the decision, U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson in Hartford ruled there is no federal constitutional right to education. That right rests under the state constitution.

The lawsuit was filed in 2016, arguing that state laws and policies, including a moratorium on the opening of new magnet schools and laws that restricted the opening and expansion of charter schools, forced students to remain in underperforming schools.

In all, 11 Connecticut parents and students from Bridgeport and Hartford filed the federal suit Tuesday against Democratic Gov. Dannel. P. Malloy, state Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell and others. At the time it was filed, Martinez was president of the Bridgeport District Parent Advisory Council. She is now secretary of the city school board. Her son is now in ninth grade and attends a private high school.

“Despite the court’s decision, our fight is far from over,” said Martinez of the Sept. 28, 2018 dismissal.. “We knew this case would not be an easy fight - change is difficult and change takes time. But now more than ever, we know this is worth fighting for. It’s time the State remove these barriers to great public schools and fulfill its promise of providing a quality public education to all students.”

Joshua Lipshutz, an attorney with Gibson, Dunn & Chruster, said the case will be appealed to the Second Circuit court.

“The federal courts should not permit Connecticut to continue denying meaningful educational opportunities to its inner-city children,” Lipshutz said.

Jacyln Severance, a spokesman for the state Attorney General’s office who is representing the state in the matter, declined to comment.

Martinez’s son Jose attended a traditional public school in the city, after failing to win a lottery seat into high-performing magnet schools run by the district. His mom tried multiple times.

At the time, Martinez said quality schools exist in the city but that their doors are open only to a lucky few.

Students Matter was founded by David Welch, a California-based entrepreneur and charter school supporter.

Charter schools are state funded schools that run independent of local school board control. Connecticut has 23 state-funded charter schools. Two more were approved this month by the state Board of Education but can not open unless the state legislature provides the funding.

When the case was filed, the state was also a defendant in school funding battle brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding. The state won that case as well.

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