More on the vital importance of doing a high-quality education adequacy cost study in Connecticut

In testimony before the Connecticut Education Committee later today, students from the Education Adequacy Project Clinic at Yale Law School will provide legislators with the rationale behind the importance of conducting a comprehensive education adequacy cost study in order to determine the appropriate level of school funding in Connecticut.

The Yale law students will explain that,

An education adequacy cost study is the only truly systematic way to provide a comprehensive picture of the actual costs needed to ensure that every student in Connecticut receives an adequate education. Cost studies work by leveraging concrete data on student needs and the expertise of education experts to calibrate and allocate education funding. If we have one fundamental point to impress upon you, it is that when children’s futures are on the line, we cannot afford to resign ourselves to guesswork.  

Cost study experts begin by using standardized measures to identify the resources needed for all students to meet existing state standards. They then determine the costs of these resources for different types of districts, considering a range of factors that experience as well as research have shown are the most salient, including among others diverse student needs, poverty, geography, limited English proficiency, special education, and foster status. Finally, experts offer recommendations for how limited budgetary allocations can achieve the greatest impact.

In addition, the students have identified “Exemplary Cost Studies” that have been completed in other states.  The law students will testify that,

As of 2007, over 30 states had utilized cost studies. Some have been initiated by legislatures, and others undertaken pursuant to court order. We would like to illustrate the value of cost studies by pointing to two very different states, Massachusetts and Arkansas, both of which used cost studies to improve educational outcomes. 

Massachusetts

In 1991, the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) released Every Child a Winner!, a robust education adequacy cost study that ultimately formed the basis for the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993. This Act ushered in an era of nationally recognized reform in Massachusetts and catapulted the performance of that state’s students to first in the nation.   The Alliance’s analysis resulted in a wide-ranging policy plan for improving educational procedures and outcomes in Massachusetts, particularly for underserved student populations. It did this by highlighting successful programs from Massachusetts as well as other states and countries, and considering how those programs could be extended throughout the state. In doing so, the study acknowledged state fiscal constraints, costed out potential interventions and identified where funds could be procured. Additionally, the cost study was not merely a rallying cry for more funding. It also highlighted several areas in which money could be appropriately redistributed across districts and within schools.  

Furthermore, these changes could be phased in to account for budgeting realities. When the cost study was first released, Massachusetts was in the midst of a major fiscal decline. In response to these constraints, the state’s Education Reform Act was implemented over a period of seven years. This incremental approach proved successful: by its conclusion, every school had met or exceeded its foundation funding level and had adopted all the recommended reforms.  

Arkansas

And in Arkansas, the state’s Supreme Court declared that the state’s school finance system was “inequitable” and “inadequate.” Lake View School District No. 25 v. Huckabee, 351 Ark. 31, 91 S.W. 3d 472 (2002). The court ordered the state to conduct a cost study. Since 2007, the Arkansas Legislature has used the education cost estimates and recommendations from the study to guide its education financing system. That same year, the Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously held that this new school finance system satisfied the state’s constitutional duties to Arkansas’ children.  

In addition to resolving the state’s school finance litigation, the benefits of Arkansas’ increased attention to and investment in school finance are notably demonstrated in its student achievement data. While only 42 percent of the state’s fourth graders in 2001 scored at “proficient” levels on the math portion of the Arkansas Benchmark Exam, in 2011, 81 percent scored “proficient” on a more challenging test. Furthermore, a 2015 report by the Arkansas Advocates found that, since the study was released, standardized test scores improved significantly and high school graduation rates increased.

Rather than do the correct thing and propose that Connecticut join the states that have completed education cost studies, Governor Dannel Malloy has totally ducked his responsibility to determine the actual level of funding that is needed to educate the state’s public school children and has, instead, proposed an ill-conceived, reactionary school funding system that will devastate public education in Connecticut.

Hopefully Connecticut’s state legislators will listen to the Yale Law School students and quickly reject Malloy’s proposal and, instead, provide funding so that the State of Connecticut and CCJEF can conduct that type of study that will provide the framework for Connecticut to adopt an education funding formula that will ensure that all public school students receive the quality education they need and deserve.