Despite all the fiscal and other challenges paralyzing Connecticut, there is an opportunity in the 2017 legislative session to take the first real step toward comprehensive, rational and constitutional education funding reform. That first step is authorizing an education adequacy cost study be conducted in our state as called for in Substitute House Bill 7270 (File 511, House Calendar 351).
Connecticut’s shame is to tolerate among the most economically and racially segregated school districts in the nation. As pointed out in painful clarity by the plaintiffs in the historic CCJEF v. Rell case now under appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court, too many of our public school students are denied their state constitutional right to an adequate and equitable education.
Connecticut is failing our poor, special need and minority students. The achievement gap between poor and minority students and other students in our state is among the worst in the country. The socioeconomic consequences of such unconstitutional indifference are not only dire for the students affected but for our state as a whole.
Our education finance system is broken and needs to be fixed. Everyone agrees on this. But there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it.
Unfortunately, the wrong way is on full display in the 2017 legislative session. There are currently at least four proposals to change the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant and special education funding, some public and some not, scurrying around the Capitol. All repeat the mistakes of the past.
However well-intentioned they may be, all these proposals fail a fundamental test: The proposals are not informed by up-to-date hard data on what it actually costs to provide an adequate and equitable educational opportunity across the diverse student-need spectrum in Connecticut. Only an education adequacy cost study can provide such real-world data. The proposals are a political and non-empirical response to the unconstitutional inequities that exist in our education finance system. As has been done so many times over the last 40 years, these proposals are rush-to-judgment fixes masquerading as comprehensive reform. None of these proposals will resolve the adequacy and equity constitutional issues raised in CCJEF v. Rell.
Education adequacy cost studies are the gold-standard prerequisite for education finance reform. They have been performed with great success in over 30 other states to help effectuate education reforms. The results of an education cost study formed the basis of education funding reform in Maryland that has resulted in a significant closing of their achievement gap.
Gov. Dannel Malloy’s 2013 Task Force to Study State Education Funding recommended that a cost study be undertaken. A 1991 cost study in Massachusetts laid the groundwork for their Education Reform Act of 1993. This act brought nationally-recognized reforms that catapulted Massachusetts’ student achievement to first in the nation.
An education adequacy cost study is estimated to cost $250,000, less than 1/10,000 of what our state currently spends on primary and secondary education. It is a great investment in Connecticut’s future and a small price to pay to get the real-world data needed by policymakers to develop a rational and constitutional education funding formula that truly ensures adequate and equitable educational opportunities for all public school students.
Let’s not repeat the policy development mistakes of the past. Let’s commission an education adequacy cost study so that we get education funding reform right. Our public school students deserve nothing less.
First published in the CTMirror, you can read and comment on Jim Finley’s commentary piece at: https://ctviewpoints.org/2017/05/16/lets-do-education-reform-the-right-way-with-an-education-adequacy-cost-study/