Horton v. Meskill

Decision Date15 January 1985
Docket NumberNos. 12499,s. 12499
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Parties, 22 Ed. Law Rep. 809 Barnaby HORTON et al. v. Thomas J. MESKILL et al. Peter D. GRACE et al. v. Thomas J. MESKILL et al. to 12502.

Charles A. Overend, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom were Robert W. Garvey, Asst. Atty. Gen., and, on the brief, Joseph I. Lieberman, Atty. Gen., and Elena S. Boisvert, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellants-cross appellees (defendant Meskill et al.).

Austin Carey, Jr., Hartford, with whom, on the brief, was Paul W. Orth, Hartford, for appellants-cross appellees (defendant town of Greenwich et al.).

Maurice T. Fitzmaurice and Susan M. Cormier, Hartford, for appellees-cross appellants (plaintiff Horton et al.).

H. Maria Cone, Asst. Corp. Counsel, Hartford, with whom were Richard M. Cosgrove, Deputy Corp. Counsel, Hartford, and, on the brief, Richard H. Goldstein, Corp. Counsel, and Donald V. Romanik, Asst. Corp. Counsel, Hartford, for appellees-cross appellants (plaintiff city of Hartford et al.).

Timothy S. Hollister and George C. Hastings, Hartford, filed a brief as amici curiae (Conn. Conference of Municipalities).


PETERS, Chief Justice.

These appeals are a sequel to Horton v. Meskill, 172 Conn. 615, 648-49, 376 A.2d 359 (1977) (Horton I), in which this court held unconstitutional the then existing statutory financing system for free public elementary and secondary school education in this state. Noting the difficulties of formulating appropriate orders of relief, we agreed in Horton I with the trial court's decision to retain jurisdiction while the General Assembly was afforded an opportunity to take responsive legislative action. Id., 650-53, 376 A.2d 359. The legislature in 1979 enacted, and in subsequent years amended, a plan intended to achieve equity in educational financing. Public Acts 1979, Nos. 79-128, 79-553; see General Statutes §§ 10-76f to 10-76g; §§ 10-261 to 10-263a; §§ 10-266m to 10-280a. The present litigation is a challenge by the original plaintiffs in Horton I and certain intervenors 1 to the constitutionality of the new plan, both as originally enacted and as subsequently amended. The principal issue is whether this plan now provides the substantially equal educational opportunity for all Connecticut public school children that the Connecticut constitution requires. The trial court, Spada, J., after extensive hearings, rendered judgments holding the plan constitutional in design but unconstitutional in part. The defendants have appealed and the plaintiffs have cross appealed. We find error in part on the appeal only.

The trial court examined in detail the provisions of the educational equity plan that the General Assembly enacted in 1979; Public Acts 1979, No. 79-128; and subsequently modified. That plan has two principal components: (1) the guaranteed tax base grant formula (GTB) and (2) the minimum expenditure requirement (MER). The GTB formula is a plan of state grants designed to provide towns with a state-guaranteed tax base for the financing of public school education. 2 It is designed to distribute equitably state aid to towns that establish their eligibility through the MER, a formula that sets the minimum acceptable level of per pupil town expenditures. 3 The 1979 act did not commit any of the participants to immediate full implementation. Both state funding and local MER payments were to be phased-in over a five year period. In addition, property-poor towns were protected by a temporary "alternate" MER, which gave them access to GTB grants on the basis of their historical record of educational financing. 4 Finally, all towns were guaranteed minimum-aid grants of $250 per pupil. The court concluded that this basic plan for financing of public school education provided a constitutionally appropriate mechanism to reduce state-wide disparity in educational resources. The court also found constitutional the state programs for equitable disbursement of categorical grants for transportation, special education and school construction. See General Statutes §§ 10-266m to 10-280a; §§ 10-76f to 10-76g; and §§ 10-282 to 10-292.

The court nonetheless concluded that the salutary effect of these constitutional programs is being undermined by post-1979 destabilizing legislative action which has repeatedly postponed full implementation of the GTB program. The court thus declared unconstitutional: (1) the statute providing for continued minimum aid grants of $250 per pupil, regardless of town need; General Statutes § 10-262c(f) as amended; 5 (2) the statute requiring use of three year old data in the calculation of the guaranteed tax base; General Statutes § 10-261(a) as amended; 6 (3) the statute postponing full funding of the guaranteed tax base to a seventh year; General Statutes § 10-262c(c) as amended; 7 and (4) the statute permitting towns to measure their minimum expenditure requirement (MER) by an alternate standard short of full funding; General Statutes §§ 10-262e(c) to 10-262e(d) as amended. 8 In a further effort to achieve educational equity, the court concluded that the existing optional curriculum for secondary school students was unconstitutional; General Statutes § 10-16b(a). 9 In each instance in which the court found the existing statutes to be constitutionally flawed, it ordered those of the defendants who had implementing responsibility to take designated appropriate action. 10 Despite these conclusions of unconstitutionality the court determined that, because the GTB program was basically constitutional, there was no need to hold a remedial stage hearing. 11

The defendants in their appeals challenge each of the trial court's conclusions of unconstitutionality and the procedural and substantive propriety of its remedial orders. The plaintiffs in their cross appeals principally urge us to overturn the trial court's conclusion that the GTB program is basically constitutional, and to order further remedial implementation.

Because many of the issues raised by all the appeals turn on whether the GTB program is constitutional in its basic design, we will first address that question. We will then consider the trial court's curricular order and the amendments to Public Acts 1979, No. 79-128 which the court found to have an unconstitutional effect. To the extent that any legislative acts may be unconstitutional, we must determine whether the trial court should consider their remedial implications at a further hearing in which all the interested parties may have an opportunity to participate fully.


Assessment of the constitutionality of the GTB plan for educational equity enacted by Public Acts 1979, No. 79-128 must start with the constitutional standard that we laid down in Horton I. Relying on those articles of the Connecticut constitution that provide for free public education and for equal rights and equal protection, 12 we held that "in Connecticut the right to education is so basic and fundamental that any infringement of that right must be strictly scrutinized." Horton I, supra, 646, 376 A.2d 359. We recognized, however, that the fundamental right to educational equity implicated the law of equal protection in a way that was " 'in significant aspects sui generis' " and hence could not be measured "by accepted conventional tests or the application of mechanical standards." Id., 645, 376 A.2d 359. see also Campbell v. Board of Education, 193 Conn. 93, 104-105, 475 A.2d 289 (1984). In particular, we noted in Horton I that "[t]he wealth discrimination found among school districts differs materially from the usual equal protection case where a fairly defined indigent class suffers discrimination to its peculiar disadvantage. The discrimination is relative rather than absolute." Horton I, supra, 172 Conn. 645, 376 A.2d 359. We also acknowledged the general applicability of the presumption that legislative action is constitutional unless its invalidity is established beyond a reasonable doubt. Id., 650, 376 A.2d 359. We therefore defined the state's constitutional obligation as a duty to allocate governmental support to education so that state funds, instead of equally benefiting all the towns by way of a flat grant, would offset the demonstrated significant disparities in the financial ability of local communities to finance local education through the local property tax. Id., 649, 376 A.2d 359. We held that the state was required to assure to all students in Connecticut's free public elementary and secondary schools "a substantially equal educational opportunity." Id.

We agree with the trial court that in light of Horton I, Public Acts 1979, No. 79-128 must be strictly scrutinized to determine whether it is constitutional. Horton I, supra, 646, 376 A.2d 359. However, the sui generis nature of litigation involving school financing legislation militates against formalistic reliance on the usual standards of the law of equal protection, in particular against the requirement that the state must demonstrate a compelling state interest. 13 See Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U.S. 330, 335, 342, 92 S.Ct. 995, 999, 1003, 31 L.Ed.2d 274 (1972); Ryszkiewicz v. New Britain, 193 Conn. 589, 597, 479 A.2d 793 (1984). 14

In searching for an appropriate and workable standard that is consistent with the mandate of Horton I, we may fruitfully borrow a framework of analysis that federal courts have devised to assess the constitutionality of state legislative apportionment plans. The Supreme Court of the United States has acknowledged that the equal protection clause, in that context, although it requires "strict scrutiny [of] classifications bearing on the right to vote in state elections"; Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 233, 102 S.Ct. 2382, 72 L.Ed.2d 786, reh. denied, 458 U.S. 1131, 103 S.Ct. 14, 73 L.Ed.2d 1401 (1982) (Blackmun, J., concurring); see also id., 217...

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23 cases
  • Carofano v. City of Bridgeport
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 9 Julio 1985
    ...This court has recently applied such an intermediate standard to the right of children to a public education. Horton v. Meskill, 195 Conn. 24, 37, 486 A.2d 1099 (1985); cf. Keogh v. Bridgeport, 187 Conn. 53, 66-67, 444 A.2d 225 (1982); Eielson v. Parker, 179 Conn. 552, 564, 427 A.2d 814 (19......
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    ... ... 584 ("Serrano III "); Butt v. State (1992), 4 Cal.4th 668, 15 Cal.Rptr.2d 480, 842 P.2d 1240; Connecticut: Horton v. Meskill (1977), 172 Conn. 615, 376 A.2d 359 ("Horton I "), followed by Horton v. Meskill (1982), [677 N.E.2d 787] 187 Conn. 187, 445 A.2d 579 ... ...
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3 books & journal articles
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    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 67, 1992
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