Connecticut sued over restrictions on public school options

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — 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 filed the federal suit Tuesday on behalf of seven children. Democratic Gov. Dannel P. 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 have deepened one of the largest achievement gaps in the country.

The state Education Department responds that Connecticut has high-quality public education, as seen by record high graduation rates, rising test scores and more school options. The agency said in a statement that more state resources are going to schools that need help the most, and improvements to the education system continue to be made.

The lawsuit challenges 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. The plaintiffs are asking a judge to issue a permanent injunction barring the state from enforcing those laws.

The plaintiffs say they have tried to enroll their children in magnet schools, charter schools or other school alternatives, but their applications have been rejected and they must send their children to public schools they say are failing.

"Getting an adequate education in Connecticut depends on the luck of the draw," said Frankie Frances, a single father whose 9-year-old son attends a school in Bridgeport. "It's time for the state to justify to parents why it has created a system where some students get access to quality schools, and other kids — our kids — get the waitlist."

State test scores continue to show that black and Hispanic students, many of them in inner cities, score much lower than white students.

Another lawsuit is challenging how Connecticut funds its education system, saying the state is not providing enough aid to many municipalities and citing vast differences in test results between rich and poor towns.

The state attorney general's office, which will defend the state against the lawsuit, said it had not yet been served with the lawsuit and declined to comment further.

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