Breaking – Malloy proposes half-baked scheme to reform education funding

Rather than address the fact that the State of Connecticut underfunds it public schools by almost $2 billion a year and the state should dramatically increase its level of support for public schools in the state, Governor Dannel Malloy went to New Britain today to announce a sham proposal that will further exacerbate Connecticut’s failed school funding policies.

Malloy’s proposal does little more than redirect a relatively small amount of existing funds from wealthier and middle income towns to Connecticut’s poorest communities.  The amount of money won’t have a profound impact for poor towns, but it will certainly ensure major cuts to local schools in a large number of towns and lead to significantly higher property taxes in the majority of Connecticut’s communities.

At the same time, in a truly outrageous maneuver, Malloy is proposing allowing those towns that received a cut in aid to reduce their minimum expenditure requirements, thereby literally lowering education quality in the majority of Connecticut’s towns.

As the CT Mirror explains;

The new pool of money – for educating physically or developmentally disabled students – would be funded almost entirely by redirecting nearly one-quarter of the $2 billion in state dollars that currently go toward the ECS grant and all of the so-called Excess Cost grant, which helps school districts pay for services for severely disabled students.

The CT Mirror added;

To accomplish the goal of redirecting education dollars to the districts most in need, Malloy would change how the state measures poverty in schools

Malloy would replace it with the number of participants in Husky A, health care provided through Medicaid.

[…]

“The concern is that you would underestimate poverty,” Daniel Long, the research director for Connecticut Voices for Children.”

As one representative for communities told CT Newsjunkie;

“The governor’s proposed changes to ECS and special education funding, coupled with his proposal to require towns to pick up one-third of the cost of teacher pension costs, will make it impossible for small towns to fund education without staggering increases in local property taxes,” said Betsy Gara, Executive Director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns. “This proposal will divert resources away from our smaller communities in a way that spells absolute disaster for our local property taxpayers.”

You can read more about this breaking story via the following links;

CT Mirror – Malloy proposes shaking up state education aid

CT Newjunkie – Malloy Will Pitch Changes To Education Formula

Governor Malloy’s Press Release on the issue can be found here  – Gov. Malloy’s Proposed Budget Provides a Fairer Distribution of Education Aid, Allocates Additional $10 Million for Special Education

 

News Flash – Malloy moves to undermine teachers, public schools and property taxpayers yet again!

In a brazen move that will undermine local public education and increase taxes at the local level, Governor Dannel Malloy announced today that his new proposed budget will dump a major portion of the state’s obligation to fund the teacher’s retirement system onto the back of local towns and taxpayers, all while cutting the most important middle income relief program.

Malloy’s tactics would require Connecticut’s cities and towns to make drastic cuts to local education and increase local property taxes in order to make up the cost shift of $407.6 million in FY 2019 and $420.9 million in FY 2019.  His plan would also end the property tax credit designed to help middle income families who are already facing high local tax burdens.

In an article entitled, Malloy would bill towns for teachers’ pensions, cut middle-class tax credit, Keith Phaneuf of the Connecticut Mirror explains;

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday his proposed budget would shift $407.6 million, nearly one-third of the cost of municipal school teachers’ pensions, onto cities and towns next fiscal year…

[…]

Malloy also said the two-year budget he will present Wednesday to the General Assembly would propose eliminating the $200 property tax credit within the income-tax system, costing nearly 875,000 middle-class households as much as $105 million per year based on nonpartisan analysts’ estimates.

More on this breaking story can be found at – http://ctmirror.org/2017/02/03/malloy-would-bill-towns-for-teachers-pensions-hints-at-cut-to-middle-class-income-tax-credit/

and at CT Newsjunkie – http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/malloy_proposes_shifting_one_third_of_teacher_retirement_costs_to_towns/

Bridgeport Charter Schools Discriminate Against Connecticut Children

As is the case elsewhere in Connecticut and across the country, charter schools generally refuse to accept and educate their fair share of children who require special education services, children who need help learning the English language, as well as children with disciplinary issues.

While siphoning off scarce public funds, these privately owned and operated schools fail to educate the wide range of students who live in their communities.

Rather than provide open door policies where all are welcome, charter schools “cream” off those students who they believe will score higher on standardized tests, thereby setting up the false narrative that the narrow, teaching to the test methodology used by charter schools makes them more successful than real public schools.

In Bridgeport, Connecticut, the charter school industry’s discriminatory approach is in full view.

In a community in which nearly one in six students are not fluent in the English language and many require additional English language services, two Bridgeport charter schools report that they have no ELL students and none of the six charter schools in the city educate an appropriate share of students who need help learning the English language.

Failing to educate English language learners is an “effective” way in which charter schools artificially inflate their test scores.  Not having ELL students means they needn’t worry about those children bringing down their average scores.

A similar story is evident when looking at the charter school industry’s failure to enroll and educate students who require special education services.

As with ELL students, Bridgeport’s charter schools simply fail to enroll and educate those students who would utilize special education programs despite the fact that state law requires schools receiving state funds not to discriminate and the law ensures that any special education costs that the charter schools must make to assist their students will be reimbursed by the community’s public school system.

In addition to the failure to accept appropriate numbers of special education students, when charter schools do report having students who need special services, the data reveal that they are students with fewer and less severe special education needs.

Compounding the problem is the Connecticut charter schools’ record of disciplinary abuses.  Many charter schools suspend and punish students in a never-ending attempt to get parents to withdraw the students that charter schools have accepted but do not want.

For example, Achievement First Inc. Bridgeport suspends English Language Learners at a rate 137% more than the Bridgeport Public Schools and the same school – Achievement First Inc. Bridgeport – suspends special education students 101% more than the Bridgeport Public Schools.

Using data provided by the Connecticut State Department of Education, the following chart highlights Bridgeport charter school’s failure to educate students who aren’t fluent in the English language.

 

Bridgeport % English Language Learners
Bridgeport Public Schools 14%
Park City Charter 0%
Great Oaks 12%
New Beginnings Charter 0%
Side by Side Charter 6%
Bridge Academy Charter 3%
Achievement First Inc. – Bridgeport 11%

Despite the record fiscal crisis facing Connecticut and the state’s shocking record of under-funding its public schools, charter schools are trying to grab even more public funds this legislative session.  However, the real data makes the situation clear.  Charter schools want taxpayer funds but refuse to provide the services that goes with being a public school.

Connecticut’s outstanding public education system is undermined by its achievement gap crisis.

Many of Connecticut’s public schools are among the best in the nation but the massive achievement gap between wealthy and poor towns is a crisis of epic proportions in this state and across the country.

However, the corporate education reform movement would have us believe that America’s education system is failing.  In fact, here in Connecticut, corporate funded charter school front groups are quick to condemn Connecticut’s public schools en masse.

Their false news rhetoric is beyond inaccurate, it is downright disgraceful and misleading.

Connecticut does have a severe academic achievement gap which is a result of the extreme poverty that is preventing many children from reaching their potential.

But by nearly every measure, Connecticut’s public schools excel compared to those in most other states.

The scores Connecticut’s students received on the 2015 NAEP scores tell the story.

As the United States government explains, the “National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas.”

While the absurd Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme is a “high-stakes” test designed to fail students, the NAEP has sought to reflect whether a random group of students have a basic understanding of the key concepts that are actually being taught at each appropriate grade level.

When it comes to the NAEP scores, Connecticut has always been among the highest scoring states in the United States.

In 2015, for example, more than 8 in 10 Connecticut students who took the NAEP test scored at or above the goal level.  By comparison, only about 60% of the students in Louisiana scored at or above the goal level.

2015 NAEP – Percent of students scoring at or above goal

Connecticut   82% at or above goal

Louisiana        63% at or above goal.

The detailed results from the Connecticut NAEP testing reveal just how successful that state’s public schools are and where the problems exist.

Connecticut NAEP Results (2015)

8th Grade Reading Score on NAEP Percent at or above Goal Level
Connecticut Students 82%
Connecticut – White Students 89%
Connecticut – African American Students 60%
Connecticut – Latino Students 69%
Connecticut – Low Income Students 67%

Compare and contrast Connecticut to Louisiana.  Nearly all of Connecticut’s lowest performing cohorts score at or above the average student in Louisiana and all student sub-groups do significantly better in Connecticut than they do in Louisiana.

8th Grade Reading Score on NAEP Connecticut

Percent at or above Goal Level

Louisiana

Percent at or above Goal Level

All Students 82% 63%
White Students 89% 79%
African American Students 60% 49%
Connecticut – Latino Students 69% n/a
Connecticut – Low Income Students 67% 55%

 

The data from the NAEP test reiterates the core reality that Connecticut’s public schools are among the best in the nation but that poverty remains the most insidious barrier to academic achievement.  Since poverty and race are closely tied in the United States, African-American and Latino students are at a significant disadvantage to the White students who tend to live in more affluent communities.

That said, the truth is hardly a concern when it comes to the slick marketing and public relations tactics of the charter school industry and their allies in the corporate education reform movement who consistently – and wrongly – claim that American public education is a failure.

Rather than allow them to hide behind their false news efforts, elected and appointed officials should be clear about the problems facing public schools in Connecticut and the United States.

The real and substantive answer is not more privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools, corporate entities that refuse to accept and educate their fair share of students who face additional challenges.

The correct policy is for Connecticut officials to step up and address the growing impact of inequity, poverty and a lack of resources that are limiting the success in many of Connecticut’s schools.

The factors undermining public education in the United States can be dealt with but it will take a level of commitment and responsibility that many officials have yet to display.

Draining dollars from our students by Wendy Lecker

Columnist and education advocate Wendy Lecker writes about Governor Dannel Malloy’s attack on Connecticut’s public schools and his ongoing effort to privatize public education in Connecticut.

In Draining dollars from our students, Wendy Lecker writes;

Though the CCJEF v. Rell trial, Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled that the Connecticut provides more than adequate school funding, his actual findings of fact, found in the Appendix to his decision, confirm CCJEF’s claims that public schools are woefully under-resourced.

The judge found that CCJEF districts had severe deficiencies in special education teachers, interventionists for reading and math, social workers, guidance counselors, school psychologists, and services for English Language Learners. Bridgeport was forced to cut 73.5 teachers, including special education teachers, social workers and psychologists in one year, even as the population grew. New Britain had to make similar cuts.

Adequate funding for all means that children who need extra support to learn get it. As the New York court said, the opportunity for an adequate education “must be placed within reach of all students.”

Moukawsher found that CCJEF districts lacked resources to provide their most vulnerable students with the extra help and support they need to access basic educational opportunities. Therefore, his conclusion that the state is providing more than adequate funding is astounding.

Because of Moukawsher’s ruling, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy felt free to cut $20 million in school aid from the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) school funding formula last week.

Districts that cannot afford teachers must scramble to fill a quarter-of-a-million-dollar hole halfway through the school year.

Simultaneously, the Malloy administration announced plans to expand publicly funded, privately managed charter schools. Austerity is only imposed on district public schools, apparently.

Compounding the damage to public school funding, Malloy’s allies intend to “reform” Connecticut’s school funding formula to drain more public dollars from public schools — toward privately run charter schools.

As the Malloy administration recently acknowledged, district public schools are the vehicle the state chose to discharge its constitutional responsibility to educate children. Although the state must ensure adequate funding, in reality the state and municipalities share the financial burden. State education funding never covers the full cost of education. The state provides a portion and the local municipality fills in the rest, with the federal government contributing a small amount. When the state fails to pay its fair share, municipalities must to make up the gap.

Successful school funding reforms start with an analysis of what it costs to educate children. Once the cost is determined, states find they must increase school spending. Those increases have been proven to improve educational and life outcomes, especially for poor children.

To begin serious reform, Connecticut must assess what it costs today to bring an adequate education within the reach of all students.

However, Malloy’s charter allies do not want to discuss the cost of education. Their agenda is to simply to get the legislature to include charter schools in any new school funding formula. Why? So local districts would be required to fund charters from local budgets.

State charter schools are considered independent districts. Local districts do not receive state allocations for students attending charter schools nor are they required pay the local contribution for children in charter schools. The host district has no say over the charter schools located within its borders. State law does require local school districts to pay for transportation and special education costs for children attending charter schools. Aside from that, charters are funded by state allocations, federal funds and private donations.

Charters are not funded like district public schools because they differ from public schools. They are statutorily created and can be discontinued anytime. They need not serve all grade levels nor provide the same services as public schools, and do not have to hire certified teachers. They are also exempt from other state mandates and accountability.

The charter lobby’s proposal would require local districts to pay for any costs for charters not covered by the state. Local taxpayers would now pay for charters like they pay for their own schools; without having any voice in charter schools and without charters following the same rules as public schools. As the state decides to expand charters, more local dollars will be drained from public schools toward these independent schools. In Rhode Island, where this system exists, districts lose tens of millions of dollars annually to charters.

Draining more money from impoverished school districts will not improve education for Connecticut’s neediest children. If our leaders are serious about school funding reform, they must start with assessing the true cost of providing every child with an adequate education. Only then can we have an honest discussion about how we can serve the educational needs of all our children.

Wendy Lecker’s column first appeared in the Stamford Advocate.  You can read and comment on it at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Draining-dollars-from-our-students-10840529.php

Will Governor Malloy propose boondoggle for charter schools under guise of new education funding formula?

Connecticut’s existing school funding formula is unfair, inappropriate and unconstitutional.  It leaves Connecticut’s public schools without the resources they need and places an unfair burden on Connecticut’s middle income families.

The CCJEF v. Rell lawsuit, which should have been called the CCJEF v. Malloy suit, made the problem extremely clear.

The time has come to return to the fundamental principles that served as the underpinning of the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) Formula before it was gutted by Governor Malloy and previous Connecticut governors and legislatures.

However, rather than step up and address the major flaws with the existing failed funding system, Governor Dannel Malloy made a thinly veiled reference today, in his State of the State Address, that he plans to propose a new state education funding formula, one that would likely pump even more scarce public funds to Connecticut’s privately owned and operated charter schools.

In addition, Malloy appears poised to suggest that any increase in education funding be restricted to only the poorest communities and that it come with strict new red tape and mandates, a move that will make it even more difficult for local school boards to provide students with the educational opportunities they need and deserve.

Since taking office in 2011, Governor Malloy has failed to adequately fund Connecticut’s real public schools, which in turn has translated to reduced programs and higher local property taxes – not only in Connecticut’s 30 poorest towns, but in communities across the state.

Compounding the problem, Malloy has successfully diverted more than $100 million dollars a year to Connecticut’s privately owned charter schools, despite the fact that these private companies fail to accept and educate their fair share of students who require special education services, those who need help learning the English language and those who have disciplinary issues.

Now as his time in office is coming to an end, Malloy appears unwilling to truly address the fact all public schools, not just those in the poorest districts, need additional state aid.

Instead Malloy’s speech today suggests that he is laying the ground work to further privatize public education, while saddling poorer cities and towns with even more mandates, rules and regulations.

Malloy’s flowery, but hollow, words today included the following;

 “Connecticut needs a new way to calculate educational aid—one that guarantees equal access to a quality education regardless of zip code”

It will be based on the local property tax burden, student need, and current enrollment.

The system will be designed to be more fair, transparent, accountable, and adaptable—meaning that it will provide flexibility to fit the needs of a given community.

The result will be a fairer distribution of our state’s limited funds.

And if we are successful in this effort, there will be an important ancillary benefit—we can help ensure that no Connecticut city or town will need to explore the avoidable path of bankruptcy.

To be clear, that kind of help shouldn’t come without strings attached. If the state is going to play a more active role in helping less-affluent communities—in helping higher-taxed communities—part of that role will be holding local political leadership and stakeholders to substantially higher standards and greater accountability than they’ve been held to in the past. We should do it so that increased aid doesn’t simply mean more spending on local government.

Stay tuned for what Malloy will really propose when he issues his budget next month.

You can read Malloy’s full speech here – Malloy State of the State address

When it comes to charter schools, facts matter (By Wendy Lecker)

Below is Wendy Lecker’s interview with Robert Cotto, Jr. about recent claims made by charter school advocates. It was first published in the Stamford Advocate.  Robert Cotto Jr. is a veteran Hartford Board of Education member, director of Urban Initiatives at Trinity College and a doctoral student at UConn’s NEAG School of Education. He has researched Connecticut charter schools for Connecticut Voices for Children and Trinity.

Lecker: Do Connecticut charter schools outperform district schools?

Cotto: Connecticut charter schools were supposed to raise achievement, innovate, and reduce racial isolation. In terms of achievement, charter schools do not serve similar proportions of students living in poverty, bilingual children, and children with disabilities when compared to the local districts where they are located. Charter schools serve a more advantaged group of Black and Latino students in our cities. Therefore, simple comparisons of test results are like comparing “apples to oranges” and do not really tell us much about academic improvement. The state has never evaluated charter innovation. While some charters may innovate, the majority of charters operate like traditional schools. Most Connecticut charter schools are highly segregated by race (mostly Black students).

Lecker: A writer claimed that if Connecticut charters fail to perform, they are shut down, but that you cannot do that to a district school. True?

Cotto: The state almost never closes charter schools because of poor academic performance or financial mismanagement. According to State Department of Education reports, only five charter schools closed their doors since 1999. Three closed because of insufficient funds, one charter school was closed for health/safety violations, and one charter school closed because of lack of academic progress.

Between 2010-2013, all 17 charter schools in the state were renewed by the state, despite very low overall test results for some, including Stamford Academy and Trailblazers Academy. Additionally, the state did not shut down Jumoke/FUSE Academy charter school despite a massive corruption scandal that invited an FBI investigation.

On the other hand, many public schools in Connecticut have closed and been reconstituted for not meeting test score targets. At least a dozen schools in Hartford have been closed and reconstituted in the last decade.

Lecker: Can you describe what happened to Milner school in Hartford?

Cotto: In 2008, Milner school was “reconstituted” under the No Child Left Behind law for not meeting test score targets. The non-magnet/non-charter school was in one of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in Hartford’s North End. In 2012, Milner school was selected by the Commissioner of Education for a second “turnaround” under the management of a private charter company, Jumoke/FUSE, which would be paid a management fee of around $350,000 a year. The idea was that this private charter company could do a better job operating a public school. Jumoke/FUSE hired convicted felons and engaged in financial improprieties. Academic performance of students at the school did not improve under Jumoke/FUSE. In 2014, Jumoke/FUSE ceased running Milner school and Hartford Public Schools regained control.

Lecker: Have charter schools helped Hartford public schools?

Cotto: While individual students and families may be satisfied with charter schools in Hartford, they pose more challenges for our district. The two charter schools in Hartford — Jumoke Academy and Achievement First — are separate districts not under community control. These schools serve far fewer numbers of bilingual students and children with disabilities when compared to Hartford schools only a few blocks away. As a result, they do not help Hartford Public Schools’ mandated desegregation goals. Additionally, parents have sued about and reported excessively brutal disciplinary practices at Achievement First schools. I have begun gathering stories of former charter school parents at my website, the Cities, Suburbs, and Schools Project at Trinity College (http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/). Given the data and stories, it’s hard to tell how these charter schools help the Hartford Public Schools or the families in Hartford Public Schools.

Lecker: Can you compare charter and district school spending?

Cotto: Straight spending comparisons ignore the fact that by law, public school districts pay for all transportation and special education costs of students in charter schools. Taking into consideration these factors, Connecticut charters often spend the same or more as their host district schools on a per pupil basis.

Charter schools receive state, private and federal funds; district schools receive state, local and federal funds. Charter schools in Connecticut get a basic state per-pupil grant of $11,000, while the state allocation for districts vary. The basic per-pupil state grant for Hartford schools is around $9,500. In Stamford, the basic state per-pupil grant is around $700.

You can read and comment on the original interview at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-When-it-comes-to-charter-schools-10801031.php

CT Judges’ anti-special education rant attracts federal government concern

Rather than properly rule that Connecticut’s historic under-funding of its public schools is unconstitutional and that Connecticut’s state government is failing to ensure  that every child is receiving their constitutionally guaranteed access to a quality education, a former state legislator and now Superior Court Judge handed Governor Dannel Malloy a victory – of sorts- in the CCJEF v. Rell school funding lawsuit by ruling that although Connecticut’s school funding formula was irrational and illegal, the amount of funding that the state provides Connecticut’s schools was “adequate.”

In his controversial ruling, Judge Thomas Moukawsher fixated on the need to teach children literacy and math, dismissing the importance of a comprehensive education or the availability of services such as guidance counselors and the broader array of programs that Connecticut’s public school students need and deserve.

In addition, in what may have been the most disturbing aspect of this decision, the judge blasted Connecticut’s special education programs and suggested that a number of children simply didn’t deserve or need to have access to special education programs because, in his view, it was a waste to try and teach them.

Now, the federal government is responding to Judge Moukawsher’s inappropriate and heartless attack on children who require special education services.

As the CT Mirror reports in, Feds have concerns with judge’s special education ruling,

The U.S. Department of Education wrote the state’s education commissioner this week to share concerns about a state judge’s order telling Connecticut lawmakers to reassess what level of services students with significant disabilities are entitled to.

[…]

Moukawsher found fault with large sums going toward “those in special education who cannot receive any form of elementary or secondary education… School officials never consider the possibility that the education appropriate for some students may be extremely limited because they are too profoundly disabled to get any benefit from an elementary or secondary education.”

The U.S. Department of Education took issue with his ruling, saying it was concerned with those portions that “suggest that a school district need not provide programming or services to all [special education]-eligible children in all areas of need.” Ruth E. Ryder, the acting director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs pointed to various federal court rulings requiring school districts to provide services for all the needs of disabled students, including academic, physical, emotional or social  needs, so that they have an opportunity to learn.

“Contrary to the lower court’s view, Connecticut and its school districts may not choose to provide special education and related services only for those students whom local educators believe may ostensibly benefit more from a traditional, elementary or secondary academic program,” Ryder wrote. “Rather, they have an obligation to provide special education and related services to all eligible children with disabilities, including children with more severe or significant disabilities.”

Federal law requires school districts to provide an “appropriate education” to disabled students – but what exactly that means is unclear. Federal courts are divided on the issue.  The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in January over what kind of services must be provided to a Colorado student with autism.

As the CCJEF v. Rell goes, on appeal, to the Connecticut Supreme Court, it is good to know that the federal government, at least for now, is standing up for Connecticut students and their parents.

To read and comment on the full CT Mirror story about the federal government’s letter on special education go to:  http://ctmirror.org/2016/12/15/feds-have-concerns-with-judges-special-education-ruling/

 

TROUBLED SCHOOLS ON TRIAL: The MUST READ series by the CT Mirror

CT Mirror reporter Jacqueline Rabe has written a MUST READ series of seven stories about the controversies surrounding Connecticut’s public school system.

As her CT Mirror biography notes,

Rabe has won two first prizes from the national Education Writers Association for her work in 2012 – one in beat reporting for her overall education coverage, and the other, with Keith Phaneuf, in investigative reporting on a series of stories revealing questionable monetary and personnel actions taken by the Board of Regents for Higher Education. Before coming to The Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. She has also worked for Congressional Quarterly and the Toledo Free Press. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Jacqueline is in the public policy master’s program at Trinity College.

Here are links to Rabe’s recent series on education in Connecticut.

WHEN POVERTY PERMEATES THE CLASSROOM (Part 1)
http://ctmirror.org/2016/12/07/troubled-schools-on-trial-when-poverty-perme…

THE BROKEN FORMULA FOR STATE SCHOOL AID (Part 2)
http://ctmirror.org/2016/12/08/troubled-schools-on-trial-a-broken-formula-f…

A BUILDING BOOM, PENSIONS LOCK IN BIG COSTS (Part 3)
http://ctmirror.org/2016/12/09/troubled-schools-on-trial-a-building-boom-pe…

WHO’S IN CHARGE? STATE VS. LOCAL CONTROL (Part 4)
http://ctmirror.org/2016/12/12/troubled-schools-on-trial-whos-in-charge-state-vs-local-control/

WHAT DOES A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA PROVE? (Part 5)
http://ctmirror.org/2016/12/13/troubled-schools-on-trial-what-does-a-high-s…

SPECIAL EDUCATION DRIVING COSTS AND CONTROVERSIES (Part 6)
http://ctmirror.org/2016/12/14/troubled-schools-on-trial-special-education-…

WILL A SCATHING COURT DECISION LEAD TO ACTION? (Part 7)
http://ctmirror.org/2016/12/15/troubled-schools-on-trial-will-a-scathing-co…

Truth From Fiction – The real story about CT School Funding (by Wendy Lecker)

A primer about Connecticut School Funding by Wendy Lecker

In September, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher issued a controversial decision in Connecticut’s long-running school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell.  Judge Moukawsher set forth a very narrow vision of what is needed in public schools in order to provide an adequate education; a vision that contradicted precedent across the United States and precedent from the Connecticut Supreme Court itself.  He essentially ruled that the State need only provide the “bare minimum” of facilities, teachers and instrumentalities of learning, and labeled anything beyond these three narrow categories as “extras;” even though it is accepted that students, especially our neediest students, need much more than that in order to have the opportunity for an adequate education.

Judge Moukawsher did highlight the inequities in wealthy versus poor districts in Connecticut. However, he refused to recognize that the extra resources that districts with needy students require are part of a constitutionally adequate education. Thus, if allowed to stand, his decision would render it impossible to create an equitable school funding system in Connecticut- one that provided adequate resources to our neediest districts. His decision has been appealed by both the State and CCJEF, and will reach the Connecticut Supreme Court in the spring of 2017.

In the meantime, there have been calls for Connecticut to fix its school funding formula before the CCJEF appeal is heard. The loudest calls have been coming from the charter lobby, which wants to seize this opportunity not to create a more just school funding system, but rather to create a system that facilitates the diversion of public dollars intended for public schools to privately managed charter schools.

The charter lobby has usurped the language of equity to advance its cause. It claims that Connecticut needs a system that funds “all public schools the same” and provides the same funding to students “no matter which public school they attend.”  As discussed below, while charter schools are considered public schools, they are by no means the same as traditional, district public schools, and should not be funded at the same level. Any claims about funding “students not schools” or “all public schools equally” should raise alarm bells. These claims lay the groundwork for not only diverting state funding to charter schools, but also diverting local funding to charter schools that are not part of a local district.

In their effort to persuade the public to divert more public funds to privately managed charter schools, the charter lobby will often use questionable statistics. For example, they will compare the $11,000 state allocation to charters to the full amount, including state, local and federal dollars, a local school district spends per pupil on its students.  This false comparison will always make it appear as if charters are being shortchanged. Thus, one must view any charter funding claims with a healthy skepticism.

Successful school finance reform always begins with an assessment of how much education costs, and always entails an increase in funding for public schools.  It is rumored that an organization close to the charter lobby, The Connecticut School Finance Project, is working with Governor Malloy to revamp the school funding system.  Governor Malloy already has stated that this year will be a “lean” budget year. Therefore, it is suspicious that he would choose a year in which he essentially acknowledges he will not provide adequate funding to public schools to engage in school finance reform.  This move should signal that he is not interested in providing adequate resources to public schools, but rather intends to shift money away from public schools to other “choice” schools, such as charters.

Now more than ever it is essential that we all understand some basic principles for school funding in Connecticut.

Some Principles for Connecticut School Funding

The goal of a state school funding system is to ensure that school districts, no matter what the wealth of those districts is, have sufficient resources to provide all students, no matter what the students’ needs and circumstances are, an opportunity for an adequate education.

Resources Necessary for an Adequate Education

Courts in school funding cases across this country have developed a consistent “basket of goods” that are necessary to provide all students the opportunity for an adequate education, including:

  • Reasonable class size;
  • Sufficient number of teachers, administrators and other personnel who are adequately trained and qualified;
  • An expanded platform of services for at-risk students (this usually means additional academic and social supports, including extra learning time, to enable at-risk children to access the same educational opportunities. It can include preK, as preK gives at-risk students additional time to catch up. There are those who advocate universal prek- i.e. prek as its own essential resource. That is a viable approach, although viewing prek as an at-risk intervention may be easier for courts and legislatures to accept)
  • Sufficient resources for children with extraordinary needs;
  • Up-to-date broad curriculum;
  • Adequate facilities;
  • Adequate instrumentalities of learning (books, textbooks, computers, supplies, etc);
  • Safe and orderly environment.

The goal in a state funding system, therefore, is to ensure that all districts are able to provide these essential resources to their students. In order to do so, the state must assess the cost of providing these programs, staff and services, and devise a fair manner in which to allocate funding (state/local share) for these resources.

Note:  In the CCJEF trial court decision, now on appeal, Judge Moukawsher, in contrast to all precedents across the country, limited the notion of adequacy to comprise only sufficient teachers, facilities and instrumentalities of learning- and he said the state is already providing adequate funding.  He called interventions for at-risk students “extras.” Thus, pursuant to his vision, it would be impossible to construct a funding system that is adequate or equitable.

State Funding Formula:

Many states, including Connecticut, adopt a “foundation” formula.  Most simply, a foundation formula establishes a “foundation amount,” which is supposed to represent the cost of educating a student with no additional or special needs.  The foundation amount is then adjusted to reflect the number of students in a district, and the needs of the students in those districts.  Often the foundation amount is also adjusted to reflect regional costs of education.  Once the amount for a district is calculated, the state must have a mechanism to determine the state share and the local share of paying for this amount.  That mechanism should take into consideration the municipality’s ability to raise revenue, thus the property wealth and income wealth of a municipality.

Foundation Amount:

The accepted method for determining the cost of education is to conduct an education cost study, which would essentially cost out the resources necessary to provide an education that would meet some agreed upon standard.  CCJEF conducted one in 2005, using a nationally known firm, APA.  There are several methodologies for conducting cost studies and many cost studies now use more than one (eg successful school and professional judgment) in order to assure accuracy.  It is essential that whoever conducts this cost study is recognized as an education finance expert and uses and accepted methodology.  These studies can be skewed to suit a political end.

The ECS formula has a foundation amount.  However, the Foundation Amount was never based on the actual cost of education (no cost study was ever done to determine the cost of education- the amount was based on existing spending at the time). Thus, the foundation amount in the ECS formula never represented the true cost of education.

Student Need:

Education cost studies have shown that it costs more to educate certain children than others.  Different children have needs that require additional services that cost money, therefore it costs more to provide them the same educational opportunity as it would children with no additional needs.

Poverty:  Costs studies have shown that it can cost up to twice as much to educate a child living in poverty (social supports, additional learning time, etc). Children who live in deeper poverty (eg, free vs. reduced price lunch) have additional needs that may increase the cost of educating them.  In districts with more concentrated poverty, the costs increase.  Thus, a weighting for poverty must account accurately for the existence of poverty, the intensity of that poverty and the concentration of poverty.  (Criticism of free and reduced price lunch is that it may be inaccurate and it is self–reported. Often students in secondary school do not identify as eligible for FRPL, so the poverty count is artificially lowered).  It is essential not to rely on national estimates or other measures that may not accurately reflect the facts on the ground.

The ECS formula never based its poverty weighting on the actual cost of educating children living in poverty.

English Language Learners (ELL): Costs studies have also shown that it can cost up to twice as much to educate an ELL student as a student with no additional needs.  ELL services are distinct from services provided to children living in poverty, so these weights are NOT interchangeable.

The ELL weight in the ECS formula was never based on cost. Moreover, in 2013, upon the urging of ConnCAN, the legislature completely removed ELL as a weight in the ECS formula.

Students with Disabilities:  It can cost up to four times as much to education a child with disabilities.

The ECS formula never included a weight for students with disabilities.

Regional Cost of Education

Formulas do adjust for the regional cost of education, using several possible methodologies.

State/Local Share: 

In order to accurately assess these shares, the state must have an accurate and reliable and up-to-date measure of a municipality’s property and income wealth.

The ECS measure of a municipality’s local share has been improperly skewed toward property wealth.

Any state school funding system must ensure adequate resources, equitably allocated to school districts.  Moreover, it must provide a predictable and stable source of funding. It is perfectly reasonable to use the framework of the ECS but assure that it is based on the actual cost of educating students with all types of needs, and that it accurately apportions the state and local share.

Why the state funding system should not be “student based”

Over the years, there has been a proposal to institute “student based” funding (called weighted student funding, money follows the child, among other names), in which funding gets assigned to the student no matter what school she attends.  This proposal is often pushed under the guise of equity but really is a mechanism to facilitate funding intended for district schools to go to charter schools.  These proponents claim that it is only fair for all “public schools” to get the same amount.

What this system would do would be to take the ostensible cost of educating a child, including both state and local allocation, and say each child should get this amount no matter which school they attend.  So if the state allocation does not cover the cost, the district in which that school is located would have to pay the rest of that amount.  This would mean, in the case of charter schools, that local districts would have to pay a local contribution for each student attending.  As charters expand, more and more money would be drained directly from local budgets.

There are different types of schools that Connecticut calls “public.”  However, they are not all the same. Charter schools in particular are not at all like district public schools.  They are exempt from many of the regulations and requirements to which district public schools are subject.  They do not need to serve all grade spans, provide all programs, serve all children in a district, etc.  In addition to the sanctioned exemptions, charters in Connecticut often underserve the neediest (ELL, students with disabilities, free lunch) and most expensive students. In addition, charters have always been envisioned as transitory, and if there is proper oversight, their charters can be revoked.  For these and other reasons, courts across the country have rejected claims by charters to obtain an equal level of funding as district public schools.

The State has an obligation to students to provide an adequate education (charters have no constitutional right to an education- children do). As long as a child can attend an adequately funded school in her district, that obligation is satisfied. There is no right for students to choose the “flavor” of school they get. There is no right to have two parallel school systems, public and charter.  In fact, diverting money from a school system that must serve all students (district public schools) to one that need only serve the few undermines the state’s goal and obligation to have a fully funded school system that serves the needs of all students.

In fact, the Connecticut Attorney General has declared recently in a pending federal suit (where charter advocates are attempting to lift any cap on charter expansion) that Connecticut’s district public school system is the vehicle that the legislature has chosen to fulfill the State’s constitutional obligation to provide each child with an adequate education.  The Attorney General pointed out that magnets and charters are “purely statutory vehicles that the General Assembly thus far has authorized and funded as a matter of public policy, and that the General Assembly could discontinue at any time if it were so inclined.” Thus, district public schools fulfill Connecticut’s constitutional obligations, while magnets and charters are voluntary, transitory, purely statutory creations.

Moreover, the Connecticut Attorney General has acknowledged in these same court papers that to fund a system of magnet and charters would be more expensive than providing adequate support to the existing traditional public school system.  Connecticut should, to use the words of the Attorney General, “be devoting the State’s limited resources to improving those schools, as opposed to creating and fully funding a new and more expensive system that is based on charter and magnet schools.”