HARTFORD - After years of preparation, two Yale Law School students were in front of the Connecticut Supreme Court yesterday, arguing a case that could lead to major changes in Connecticut's public education system and how it is funded.
Law students Neil Weare and David Noah and a dozen classmates have spent thousands of hours interviewing plaintiffs, conducting research, drafting briefs, and developing oral arguments in a lawsuit that would have cost an estimated $5 million to $7 million if handled by private lawyers.
The law students, representing the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding and public school students across the state for free, argued that the Connecticut Constitution guarantees every student at least an adequate education.
"We had a healthy sense of nerves," Weare said. "When you have potentially the future of Connecticut's schoolchildren resting on this argument today, there's a lot riding on it."
Weare and Noah are among the 80 percent of Yale Law School students who participate in clinics where they represent real people with real issues in courts, including the US Supreme Court.
Students have represented low-income tenants in eviction proceedings, foreign nationals who have been detained, and family members involved in abuse, neglect, and parental right termination proceedings.
Weare and Noah argued yesterday that Connecticut, one of the richest states in the country, has schools in some low-income districts where students are not being prepared for tomorrow's workplace, higher education, or full civic participation.
Noah said that while he and Weare were the ones who made the oral arguments, they were bolstered by their colleagues' efforts.
"We were so well-prepared. We had such an amazing team that I think we felt that any possible argument that we could make that was going to convince the court, we had behind us," said Noah, who called yesterday's hearing "an incredible opportunity."
The arguments stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the Yale students in 2005 against Governor M. Jodi Rell and other state officials.
Both Noah and Weare were part of the original team that took up the case after being approached in 2004 by the education coalition.
It's unclear when the Connecticut Supreme Court will decide. The students want the high court to order a trial in state court, where they can challenge the state's assertions that it provides adequate education to Connecticut children.
A Superior Court judge last year determined that the state's constitution did not guarantee a right to an adequate or suitable education, the position taken by the state.