Corporate Education Reform Group’s proposal for new special education system in Connecticut panned;

The Connecticut School Finance Project, an off-shoot of the corporate funded charter school lobby group Connecticut Council on Education Reform (CCER) recently proposed legislation that would undermine Connecticut’s special education funding system.  Under the guise of “reform,” the new centralized and bureaucratic system would effectively remove local control when it comes to determining what programs and services would best address each individual child’s special education needs.

In violation of Connecticut’s state ethics laws, The Connecticut School Finance Project developed the outrageous proposal in conjunction with the Malloy administration and is now trying to get state legislators to put the organization’s plan into law.

In testimony provided to the Education Committee this week, Thomas Scarice, Superintendent of the Madison Schools and Dr. Elizabeth Battaglia, Director of Special Education in Madison, noted, among other points, that;

No other state in the nation has implemented a statewide intermediary to pay for all special education costs for school districts.  In short, this is a grand experiment with only theoretical assurances.  A comprehensive analysis by a task force, one that considers alternatives beyond the proposed cooperative, is necessary to address the complex problems facing districts.  An experiment is not a solution.  In fact, after a simple Google search, one can find the results of a somewhat similar model that was implemented on a regional basis in California through Special Education Local Planning Areas (SELPA).  Over 100 of these models were implemented in California.  An analysis of these models by the Public Policy Institute of California found that they reduced transparency, accountability and local control.  Even more disturbing, they were consistently underfunded and failed to distribute aid in an equitable manner.  Additionally, the only somewhat analogous ode lint he nation (SELPAs) did not solve the primary problem facing districts, that is, rising special education costs.

In the California study, when local control for funding was taken away, it impacted preventative services and early intervention programs…

In a reasoned and well-thought out accounting of the problems, Superintendent Scarice and Dr. Battaglia revealed the very real short-comings in the Connecticut School Finance Project’s proposal.

The question now is whether legislators will back the corporate education reform entity or do what is best for Connecticut students who require special education services and the local school districts that provide them with that vital support.

You can read more testimony about House Bill 7255 at: https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/CommDocTmy.asp?comm_code=ed&date=03/16/2017 and Senate Bill 542 at: https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/CommDocTmy.asp?comm_code=ins&date=02/21/2017

Confronting the Scheme to Gamble With Connecticut Special Education Funds by Robert Cotto Jr.

In a MUST READ commentary piece published in the CTNewsjunkie, Robert Cotto Jr. reviews the flawed special education proposal submitted by The Connecticut School Finance Project, a corporate education reform group that has apparently violated state law by illegally engaging in lobbying activities with Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration. (See: In violation of state lobbying laws, corporate education reform group develops Malloy’s disastrous special education funding proposal.)

Cotto begins by explaining,

As the state considers the risk of adding a new casino, Connecticut must beware of another plan to gamble with funds for students with disabilities. Based on its flawed analysis of special education, the plan could be a jackpot for profiteers and charter school entrepreneurs. We must stop this scheme and consider better alternatives.

[…]

Initially proposed by the Connecticut School Finance Project to help districts face the “ups” and “downs” of special education costs, the governor’s administration, as well as other education reformers, have now endorsed the plan. Yet, as Deborah Richards from the Capitol Region Education Council stated, “the primary issue is cost” of special education, not volatility.

Cotto adds;

If this plan sounds like a scam to you, then you are not alone. Special education advocate Dianne Willcutts, stated that it, “does not ensure that Districts will be in compliance” with special education law. Attorney Andrew Feinstein warned“this bill (SB 542) does nothing to help children with disabilities” and voiced concern that it would “actually harm children with disabilities.”

Even potential supporters were unsure. The Connecticut Association of Boards of Education called for more details. Others called the plan “unclear.” Two parents claimed this offers more equity, but shared only personal anecdotes.

So who benefits?

The State: By moving money around and adding some dollars in the first year, the administration will claim in public and court that it has an “innovative” method of funding special education.

Profiteers: The plan creates a “captive insurance company” to insure the state against future special education costs (e.g. Step 3). The fund would pay salaries and fees to manage the plan. Because captive insurance companies are often misused, the American Bar Association and U.S. Department of the Treasury have raised concerns and the FBI includes “captives” on the “Dirty Dozen” tax scam list.

Charter school entrepreneurs: One of the barriers to a school voucher system, supported by charter lobbyists, is that public districts must pay for all students, including those with disabilities. Per-pupil vouchers do not cover all costs.

With local and state funds, public-school districts pay special education costs for their own districts and at charter schools. This cost-sharing system makes it difficult to implement vouchers or similar plans (e.g. money follows child, weighted student funding, student-based budgeting).

You can read and comment on this vitally important article via – http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_confronting_the_scheme_to_gamble_with_connecticut_special_education_f/

In violation of state lobbying laws, corporate education reform group develops Malloy’s disastrous special education funding proposal

Among the many bad budget recommendations included in Governor Dannel Malloy state spending plan is a proposal that would leave Connecticut’s cities and towns without the resources they need to properly fund mandated programs for students who require special education services.

Now, according to documents acquired through a Freedom of Information request, Malloy’s absurd proposal, which undermines Connecticut’s special education program, was actually developed by a corporate education reform group. This in spite of the fact that the group failed to report that it had engaged in any administrative lobbying activities.

The entity in question is an off-shoot of the Connecticut Council on Education Reform (CCER), a corporate funded lobbying group that has been trying to divert scarce public resources to Connecticut’s charter schools, while lobbying on behalf of Malloy’s massive Common Core SBAC standardized testing debacle and his other corporate education reforms.

Last year, staff from CCER formed The Connecticut School Finance Project.

Following Governor Malloy’s recent proposal to create a Connecticut Special Education Cost Cooperative, a new bureaucratic structure designed to inappropriately control special education funding and services, The Connecticut School Finance Project prepared an “independent analysis examining these proposed changes and how they align with six key principles and practices all special education finance systems should follow.”

However, neither the Governor nor the lobbying group revealed that the proposal was actually developed by the Connecticut School Finance Project after months of close communication with the Malloy administration and their “independent analysis” was of a plan they actually wrote.

Worse, in an outright lie and in apparent violation of state law, the Connecticut School Finance Project reported to the State Ethics Commission that it didn’t spend any time or money engaged in communications with the Governor or his staff.

Yet documents that were recently turned over by the Office of Policy and Management tell a very different story and confirm that the Connecticut School Finance Project has been working directly with the Malloy administration on the proposal since the fall of 2016.

Connecticut School Finance Project even hired a former OPM staff person to help develop the plan, a proposal that undermines local control and sets up the new apparatus that would dramatically reduce the amount of money many towns receive for providing special education services to the children in their communities.

The newly released documents highlight a variety of communications and meetings between the Connecticut School Finance Project and Malloy officials including the activities of a School Finance Project staffer who isn’t even registered to lobby.

In November 2016, the Connecticut School Finance Project’s Senior Policy Analyst wrote to Malloy’s Undersecretary for Legal Affairs stating,

“I want to reach out to make sure that you are updated on the progress related to the SPED Co-op funding system.  Kate [Connecticut School Finance Project’s Executive Director] indicated that your expertise was volunteered during a meeting with Secretary Barnes.”

The corporate education reform group’s staff person then explains,

“We are likely to set up the co-op as a sponsored captive insurance group…” 

And then adds

“I am going to be following up to schedule a meeting to begin working on policy development and statutory drafting.”

Since the lobbying group’s staff person was not registered to lobby, such communication violates state law.

At another point the Connecticut School Finance Project’s Executive Director, a person who is registered to lobby, but failed to report their activities as required by law, wrote to Malloy’s budget chief saying,

“Also, maybe we could quickly talk by phone so I can tell you what we have and you can let me know if its what you need.” 

And in another instance, the corporate education reform lobbyist wrote,

“I wonder if you’d like to get a status update on the calendar…we’ll have some new stuff for you…”

According to sworn statements filed with the State Ethics Commission, The Connecticut School Finance Project claimed it had no communication with anyone in the administrative branch of government during this entire time period.

Which, of course, is untrue.

Meanwhile, the proposal itself remains on the General Assembly’s legislative agenda.

Special education expert and advocate Andrew Feinstein focused on the problems with the proposal in testimony before the Insurance and Real Estate Committee saying,

“The promotional material by the Connecticut School Finance Project is flashy and appealing, but fails to answer some serious questions…let’s understand that the bill does nothing to help children with disabilities.”

And John Bestor, a retired school psychologist added,

“An Act Establishing the Connecticut Special Education Cost Cooperative represents a serious threat to over forty years of special education programming decisions which are – by law – supposed to be determined through a planning & Placement Team process that includes both parents and teachers who know the student’s educational needs best.”

The plan would be bad for Connecticut’s students, schools and taxpayers.

Furthermore, it is yet another reminder of the control the corporate education reform groups have on Malloy and his policies.

And worst of all, this group is deeply involved in developing Malloy’s agenda, all in violation of state law.