Connecticut has a long history of requiring education for children and supporting schooling with public funds. These requirements extend back to colonial times. The first compulsory school law was enacted by the Connecticut colonial legislature in 1650. The state first began supplying state funds for education in 1795, when it sold the its western lands and earmarked the proceeds for educational purposes.
The distribution of state education funding has been extensively litigated in Connecticut. Until 1977, the state sent towns a per-student education grant. Towns raised other funds for education from local property taxes. But in 1974, the Connecticut Supreme Court found the state method of funding education to be unconstitutional because it did not provide equal educational opportunities to students living in property rich and poor towns. A second major state Supreme Court ruling in 1996 in the case of Sheff v. O‘Neill found that the State Constitution’s equal protection clause requires the state to remedy racial, ethnic, and economic segregation in schools even when the segregation is not caused by deliberate state action.
The first public higher education institution in Connecticut was a normal school for training teachers, established in 1849.
This brief summary of the history of education in Connecticut is based on “Education in Connecticut” by Leslie P. Ricklin from Celebrate Connecticut: 350 Years, 1635 – 1985. For your further information, we enclose the following legislative research reports: Legislative History of the Compulsory Schooling Law (94-R-0847), School Funding and the Courts (95-R-0899), State Education Grants and Court Decisions (98-R-0484), and Sheff v. O‘Neill Decision and Concurring and Dissenting Opinions (96-R-1027). We also enclose copies of the 1650 compulsory school law, an 1875 law requiring public schools to be open to all, and the education articles (Article Eighth) from the 1818 and 1965 Connecticut constitutions.
Before 1650, schools in Connecticut were voluntary and supported by towns’ ecclesiastical societies. Both boys and girls attended. The first general educational policy was enacted in the Connecticut Code of 1650. The code enumerated two principles that remain the basis for Connecticut’s educational system. The first is that the state should compel parents and those who control children to educate them. The second is that public money, raised by taxes, could be used to pay for education. The code required each town of 50 householders to appoint a teacher to instruct the local children to read and write. Once a town reached 100 families, it was required to set up a grammar school to instruct youths up to university level.
In 1677, the General Court gave local towns broad discretion over what portion of their taxes had to be allocated to schools. In laws enacted in 1766 and 1774, the colony allowed for decentralization of the school system, leaving the financial responsibility for education to local governments. In 1766, towns were allowed to establish school districts. In 1795, the state passed a law prohibiting ecclesiastical involvement in school affairs. That law also gave responsibility for overseeing district schools to selectmen or school committees.
Until the end of the18th century, schools were supported by local taxes augmented by rate-bills levied against students’ families. In 1795, the General Assembly created the state Common School Fund with the revenue from the sale of the Western Reserve, a tract of land in present-day Ohio. The interest on this permanent fund of $1.2 million was dedicated to funding the common schools of the state. The fund still exists (see enclosed OLR report 92-R-0673).
In 1840, the first publicly supported high school was established in Middletown. The State Board of Education was established in 1865. By 1868, all Connecticut public elementary schools were free and open to all children over age four. In 1868, the state passed a law that “no person shall be denied admittance to and instruction in said [public] schools on account of race or color.” In 1872, public tax support and state aid was extended to high schools.
In 1974, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the way state educational aid was distributed among towns denied students an equal educational opportunity. In response to the decision, the General Assembly enacted a complex formula for distributing aid to school districts. That formula has been extensively revised in the intervening years and remains the subject of litigation to this day.
PUBLIC HIGHER EDUCATION
The General Assembly established the first public higher education institution in Connecticut in 1849. It was a normal school to train teachers. The school, now Central Connecticut State University, opened in New Britain in 1850. The state’s public research university, the University of Connecticut, was founded as an agricultural college in 1881.
The state constitution’s equal protection and nondiscrimination clauses apply to public institutions of higher education.
If you have a child with a disability and have questions about special education law, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq., at 203-221-3100, or at JMaya@mayalaw.com, to schedule a free consultation.
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