Connecticut’s ECS school funding formula should not be at the whim of the governor by Wendy Lecker

In a recent commentary piece first published in the Stamford Advocate, education funding expert Wendy Lecker laid out the problems with Governor Dannel Malloy’s recently proposed school funding system.  Wendy Lecker writes.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy spouts rhetoric about the “urgency” to make progress in finding a “fair” system for funding Connecticut’s schools. Unfortunately, his 2018-19 school funding proposals will take Connecticut backward in its struggle to adequately and equitably fund education.

A brief refresher on Connecticut’s funding formula, the Education Cost Sharing Formula (“ECS”): ECS is a foundation formula similar to that of many other states. It establishes a foundation amount, the amount of money necessary to educate a child with no special needs, then adjusts for poverty by adding a certain weight to that amount, and adjusts for the number of students in a district. It then uses a measure of town wealth to determine the state and local shares of the amount for each district. While a foundation formula is inherently sound, ECS has numerous flaws. The foundation amount was never based on the actual cost of educating a child, nor does the poverty weight reflect the true added cost of educating students living in poverty. Connecticut removed the weight for English Language Learners from the formula in 2013, though there is a recognized additional cost to educate these students. There was never a weight in the formula to account for the additional cost of educating students with disabilities.

The measurement of town wealth is also skewed.

These flaws drove CCJEF, in 2005, to commission an education adequacy cost study to determine the true cost of education in Connecticut. Over the past 30 years, more than 50 cost studies have been conducted in 35 states. They have formed the basis for genuine school finance reform in many of these states. National studies show that school finance reform has had a significant positive effect on academic and life outcomes, especially for poor children.

Then-mayor Malloy was a founding member of CCJEF when it commissioned the cost study. In 2007, Malloy and the rest of the CCJEF steering committee presented their proposal for reforming Connecticut’s school finance system, based on that cost study.

What a difference 10 years and millions of dollars’ worth of donations from charter school lobbyists make. Now, Gov. Malloy rejects the notion of a cost study and instead proposes changes to ECS that not only are not supported by any evidence, but explicitly contradict reality.

According to Malloy’s OPM Secretary, Ben Barnes, cost studies are “spurious” and instead education funding should be determined by the “amount of support that the state would like to place in its K-12 system.”

In other words, education funding, according to Malloy, should be based on our leaders’ political whims rather than on what kids need.

Here are some examples of Malloy’s 2018 school funding whims, which, as CCJEF and others point out, will reduce overall k-12 funding in Connecticut.

Malloy proposes reducing the ECS foundation amount from $11,525 to $8,999 for 2018 and thereafter, while increasing per pupil funding for charter schools from $11,000 to $11,500. As CCJEF points out, in 2007-08, the ECS foundation amount was $9,687.

Since 2007-08, Connecticut has seen an increase in ELL students, students with disabilities and students living in poverty. In fact, the number of children who qualify for free (not reduced) lunch has grown 10 percentage points statewide. In some districts, the increase in need is startling. In Windham and New Britain, there was a more than 20 percent increase in students qualifying for free lunch. New mandates such as the Common Core and teacher evaluations further increase the cost of education. Yet Malloy proposes reducing foundation below the 2008 level.

Malloy proposes changing poverty measure from free and reduced priced lunch (“FRPL”) eligibility to Husky A eligibility. While FRPL is not an accurate measure of poverty, Husky A eligibility is just as bad. As CCJEF notes, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for HUSKY A, thus would not be counted. Connecticut Voices for Children calculated that 24 percent of children living in poverty do not receive HUSKY A and thus would also be excluded. Moreover, Malloy seeks to limit HUSKY A eligibility even further, purging more children from the ECS poverty measure. Worse still, Malloy proposes reducing ECS’ poverty weight from 30 percent to 20 percent, for apparently no reason at all.

These are only a few examples of the ways Gov. Malloy is seeking to restrict funding for Connecticut’s schools. To learn more, read CCJEF’s testimony at http://bit.ly/2mjdmKy and Connecticut Voices for Children’s analysis at http://bit.ly/2lHm9To.

Then call your legislators and demand that Connecticut conduct a new cost study to ensure that education funding is based on reality, not the governor’s whims.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.  You can read and comment on the piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-ECS-formula-should-not-be-at-whim-10976010.php