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.

Public Schools: Who Is Failing Whom?  A MUST READ by Ann P Cronin

Education advocate and fellow education blogger, Ann Cronin, has written another powerful piece, this time asking who is failing whom when it comes to the nation’s public schools.

Ann Cronin writes;

If the same words are repeated over and over again, they begin to begin to be taken as true. “Failing public schools” are such words. I see them written and hear them spoken by legislators, journalists, and commentators who probably have not been in a public school in decades since they attended one or never because they were educated in private schools.

Looking at who is taking Advanced Placement courses and how those students are faring is one of many ways to bring the term “failing public schools” into question. The number of high school students taking Advanced Placement exams increased in 2016, and more of the test takers were from low-income families, according to the College Board’s annual report on the Advanced Placement program. More than 1.1 million high school students took at least one Advanced Placement course during high school, 25,000 more than in 2015. That means that of the 3.1 million students who graduated from high school in 2016, more than 20% of them earned a score of 3 or better on an AP exam. Scoring a 3 allowed them to gain college credit at most colleges and universities.

The increase in the number of test-takers from low-income families continues a trend. In 2003, just over 94,000 students from low-income families took an AP exam; whereas, in 2016, 554,500 students from low-income families took at least one AP exam. Those who believe public schools are failing probably think that increasing the number of test-takers, especially low-income students from urban schools, would lower the overall performance on the AP tests. Not so. The average scores on all AP exams have held steady. In fact, the average score was actually higher in 2016 than in 2003 when far fewer students took AP exams. As Nat Malkus of the American Enterprise Institute said recently, “The fact that 1 in 5 public school graduates passed an AP exam in 2016 pushes back against the ‘public schools are failing’ narrative.”

So, the public schools in urban areas, where the increased population of test-takers is coming from, are doing good work in challenging students to learn. The students have performed well on AP exams and gained college credits for their efforts.

But what are those in power doing to foster that positive growth?

Nothing.

Those in power are working hard to end that trend.

Low-income students are in danger of not being able to take AP exams and gain college credits because they cannot afford the cost of taking AP exams now in 2017 and in the future.  A federal grant program that subsidized AP exams for low income students has ended. It was replaced in the Every Student Succeeds Act by a block grant program in which the funds given to states do not have to be used to subsidize the cost of taking AP exams in the future, and the grants are not available at all for this 2016-2017 school year.

This creates a problem for cities like Worcester, Massachusetts. Under the leadership of Maureen Binienda, the Superintendent of Schools, high school students have  been encouraged to challenge themselves by taking AP courses. She said that emphasizing rigorous academic course offerings has changed the culture of the city’s high schools. Last year, low-income Worcester students, utilizing the federal subsidy, took 1, 919 AP exams. The fee for taking an AP exam is $93.oo; with the subsidy, students paid $15.00 per exam. This year, with no federal subsidy, low-income students will be required to pay the College Board reduced fee of $53. That College Board discounted price is still too expensive for many families in Worcester. Ms. Binienda appealed to the state legislature for funds, but the legislators could not help and suggested she try local businesses.

Appealing to private citizens and businesses is exactly what the state of Washington did. Washington state officials became concerned that low-income students, due to the removal of federal subsidies, will not be able to take AP exams so they set up an emergency fund to raise $800,000. That fund would allow low-income students to keep paying $15 per test. Microsoft, Boeing, the Shultz Family Foundations, other corporations, individuals, and nonprofits contributed to the emergency fund. The state legislature appropriated $75, 000. The result was that more than the $800,000 was raised, and low income students will take their 2017 AP exams for free.

In Connecticut, the state is picking up the costs for this one year only to provide subsidies for all of the low income students taking AP exams but with no promise of future funding by the state.

So there we have it. One state is fully funding the subsidies. In another state, private citizens and corporations are providing the subsidies. And in a third state, low-income students currently have no funding to take AP exams and earn college credits.

That is the wave of the future. Each state for itself.  Each state will decide for itself who gets access to college credits through AP courses. Each state will decide for itself what students receive services for special needs. Each state will decide for itself about providing vouchers for segregated schools. We have a Secretary of Education who said at her confirmation hearing that she does not support equal accountability for all schools. We have a President who said that a model school, one that is worthy of taxpayer support through vouchers, is one in which the students pledge allegiance to the Bible. We have a bill proposed in Congress (HR610) which will give block grants to the states to use as each state wishes rather than for specified and uniform standards for special education, integration, or equal access to challenging courses and qualifying exams for college credits. In fact, the grants, according to HR610, do not have to be used from public education at all and will provide taxpayer money for vouchers to totally unaccountable private schools. Shame on us.

It is not the schools that are failing our children. It is the adults with political power who are failing our schools.

You can read Ann Cronin’s commentary piece and her other posts at: https://reallearningct.com/2017/03/09/public-schools-who-is-failing-whom/

Connecticut Alliance for Privacy in Education speaks out against changes to new student privacy law

As explained in the Wait, What? post entitled,  ALERT – Legislation seeking to undo student privacy protections now before CT Legislature’s Education Committee, legislation has been introduced that would undermine Connecticut’s new student privacy law.

In legislative testimony this week, the Connecticut Alliance for Privacy in Education explained why the change is unnecessary and inappropriate.

Parents should take a moment to read this important information.

CAPE testified;

HB 7207 would delay student data privacy protections enacted last year until July 1, 2018. HB 7207 would undermine protections that students, from prek through grade 12 currently have as a result of the committee’s hard work last year when it enacted PA 16-189 with bi-partisan support.

The proposed bill would keep parents in the dark regarding the release of their children’s records. It would keep parents in the dark regarding contractors who have access to their children’s records. It would keep parents in the dark even in the event of breach of student data. The proposed bill undermines several sections to the law that was passed overwhelmingly by legislators and supported by parents, educators and other critical voices representing children. It undermines security requirements for contractors and operators of websites and apps and delays the implementation of a breach policy. It leaves unaddressed the fact that a task force created last year to address ongoing issues was never convened. It would leave children in Connecticut less protected than those in other states where 73 laws on student data privacy have been enacted.

We can see no reason that any part of this law, let along the entire law, should be delayed. At a time when security and transparency provisions have already been long overdue in this state, HB 7207 would delay protections for more than 2 years from the time this committee recommended a bill to the General Assembly. Connecticut would be going backwards.

In addition, PA 16-189 established a task force to address unmet and ongoing student privacy issues. It was never convened. The task force would have addressed issues regarding enforcement and penalties for third party violators, training in data security and handling, an inventory of approved resources, the development of a tool kit for use by school districts, a means by which parents could reasonably request the deletion of student information that is held by third parties, and to provide model practices in the state. The task force was good policy passed as a good faith promise to parents and other stakeholders that more would be done to protect students.

Some districts have done their due diligence and are doing the right thing by their students and the law. However, other districts are finding compliance more challenging and could benefit from some assistance. This was not an unforeseen issue, and one reason for the creation of a task force was for it to provide guidance and a toolkit for implementation.

Thankfully, the Connecticut Commission on Educational Technology (CCET), in collaboration with The Department of Administrative Services, has undertaken the task of assisting districts (You can see what they have done here: Operationalizing Public Act 189 http://www.ct.gov/ctedtech/cwp/view.asp?a=1182&q=253412). Their work is commendable and likely to result in most districts being in compliance in the near future – unless this bill is enacted, giving districts and opponents justification to halt progress.

It is important to note that according to CCET, an unanticipated benefit of this law is that an accounting of purchases and agreements has helped districts to identify redundancies and inefficiencies, effectively streamlining purchases and processes. We commend CCET on its work and commitment to the privacy of students.

Still, a permanent Advisory Council that enables all stakeholders to collaborate on behalf of students is necessary and should be added into the law. As many of you know, we often do our best work when all voices are represented and working together to address shared challenges and develop collaborative solutions.

It should also be noted that PA 16-189 did not stop the collection of student data or its appropriate use for instructional purposes and to improve student learning. It simply provided greater notice and transparency for parents and delineated contract provisions and technical security safeguards, while seeking to address misuse and instances of breach.

The jury is no longer out. There has been a wealth of information and resources to help us understand why it is necessary for us to do this and how to do it right. We have learned from state and federal guidance documents, two legislative sessions worth of public hearings and forums, television and radio reports, and too many news articles with headlines shouting “breach”. We urge that you stand behind this policy and stand with the parents and students of your districts by saying “No Delay

Now is the time to make sure legislators understand that they should reject the effort to undermine Connecticut’s new student privacy law.

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

ALERT – Legislation seeking to undo student privacy protections now before CT Legislature’s Education Committee

In this day and age of widespread data breaches, Governor Dannel Malloy, Attorney General George Jepsen and an overwhelming majority of Connecticut state legislators say they support privacy protections.  They’ve even passed laws that guarantee notification and required protection for those whose data has been breached.

But in an incredibly underhanded maneuver, a new bill is being considered by the Education Committee that would roll back critically important protections for parents and children if data collected at school is breached.

House Bill 7207 strips the protection that students currently have by repealing the existing requirement that parents be notified if their child’s information is released via a corporate breach.

One would think that elected officials would be outraged, but with industry lobbying seeking to turn back the clock on these important notification requirements there is only silence from Governor Dannel Malloy and Attorney General George Jepsen — both of whom publicly bragged about their commitment to protecting Connecticut residents from data breaches.

In fact, just two years ago, Malloy and Jepsen pushed for legislative action requiring companies to notify and protect residents in the case of a breach and last year Malloy signed the new education law (Public Act 16-189) which targeted companies that do business with public schools.

But now with the new push to undo those protections, Malloy and Jepsen are nowhere to be seen.

As the parent run Connecticut Alliance for Student Privacy explains,

This year’s proposed bill (HB 7207) delays the effective date of the law passed last session from October 1, 2016 to July 1, 2018. 

The law, as passed last year, did not stop the collection of student data or its appropriate use for instructional purposes or to improve student outcomes. It simply provides greater notice and transparency for parents and delineates contract provisions and technical security safeguards, while seeking to address misuse and instances of breach.

The effort to undo Connecticut’s new law is even garnering national attention.  Fellow education advocate and blogger, Cheri Kiesecker, recently posted the following on her Missouri Education Watchdog blog.

Connecticut legislators don’t want to protect students after all. Attacking Student Data Privacy Law–AGAIN.

Connecticut passed a student data privacy and transparency bill, Public Act 189,  in 2016.

The bill adopted common sense policies associated with contracts between school districts and corporations that collect, maintain, and share student data.  The CT law does NOT limit data collection, does not require parental consent prior to collecting data, it only asks that NEW or renewed contracts and bids collecting student data must handle data appropriately. The law requires parents to be notified if their child’s data is breached. To their credit, the CT Commission on Educational Technology has done great work and is prepared and ready for this law to be implemented.  You can see their plan here: Operationalizing Public Act 189.

Why then, are some lawmakers in CT introducing bills to cripple this new law that protects student data privacy? Do they not think that keeping student data safe, notifying parents of a breach is important?

You may remember one Connecticut legislator introduced a bill in January to entirely repeal this new student privacy law.  As CT blogger and parent Jonathon Pelto wrote,

“…in an astonishing, baffling and extremely disturbing move, State Representative Stephen Harding (R-107th District) has introduced legislation (HB 5233) to repeal this important law (Public Act 16-189)

…It is not clear who would ask Representative Harding to propose such a bill or why the representative would seek to do such harm to Connecticut’s students, parents and public schools.”

Fortunately, Representative Harding withdrew the bill after receiving much pushback (understandably) from the parent community.

New bill “Revising” CT Student Privacy to be heard Monday, March 6

This past week a new bill, 7207 to “revise” the student data privacy law, was introduced, and will be heard by the CT Joint Education Committee this Monday, March 6.  This kind of a rush job could imply that they are hoping to pass this bill without giving parents time to react.  This new bill, 7207, wants to repeal the data privacy law and delay further implementation until July 1, 2018.   This would remove existing protection of school children for over a year.  WHY?

The Student Data Privacy Law has been in effect since Oct. 1, 2016; it only applies to NEW contracts, only asks for transparency, the CT Edtech Commission has already done the work to implement it. WHY, would Connecticut want to now repeal protection and transparency?

[…]

Is it asking too much that when a company contracts with a school and collects and uses and shares children’s data, that the data be kept safe and parents be able to see how that data is used, breached, and not sold?

By repealing or delaying this law, who are they protecting?

Connecticut parents and other citizens opposed to stripping children of the privacy protections contained in Public Act 189 should take immediate steps to notify their legislators that this unwarranted and inappropriate assault on protecting students and parents must be defeated.

For more about this legislative effort to undermine Public Act 189 go to the CT Alliance for Privacy in Education’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/CTStudentDataPrivacy/posts/618261395030545

Bridgeport Board of Education Member Maria Pereira speaks out against Malloy Education Cuts

Maria Pereira is a public education advocate and member of the Bridgeport Board of Education.  She recently testified before the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee on Governor Dannel Malloy’s proposal to slash state support for Connecticut’s public schools. In her testimony Pereira highlights the devastating impact Malloy’s budget would have on Bridgeport.

Pereira explained;

I write to you today as a Bridgeport Public School (BPS) graduate, parent, Board of Education member (BOE), and staunch defender of true public education.

I and my five siblings were born and raised in Bridgeport and we all graduated from the Bridgeport Public Schools. When I look back on the education I received I often come to the conclusion that I received a good education administrated by amazing Bridgeport Public School Teachers.

I have been a staunch and vocal proponent of our true public schools since 2009, which is when I discovered my 12 year old daughter was on her 9th seventh grade math teacher as of March that school year. I often believe something good comes out of everything bad. My good was that this was my catalyst for becoming involved in the state of public education in the City that I love, Bridgeport.

I have witnessed public education deteriorate in Bridgeport over the last three decades due in large measure to the severe underfunding of the BPS.  Governor Malloy’s own ECS Taskforce Report issued in January 2012 recommended using “Free and Reduced Price Lunch eligibility to determine student need”, yet the proposed budget rejects that recommendation by using Husky A enrollment as the measurement for poverty. This will allow thousands of students living in poverty NOT to be counted. Examples are many fathers are court ordered to provide health coverage through their employer, yet the child lives with mother and in poverty. Many non-citizens do not, and will not apply for Husky A, especially in today’s world of mass deportation.  They are frightened to give their personal information.

There is another $22,000,000 in Malloy’s proposed budget for charter school enrollment and new school expansion. How is this state facing approximately $3 billion in budget deficits over the next two years, yet the SDOE requested bids for more charter schools? Why is there is always more money for the most segregated schools with the highest suspension and expulsion rates in CT? These CMO’s are pocketing between 10% and 13% of every state dollar provided to them for “fees” instead of using these funds to educate their students.

Bridgeport has more charter schools than any other district in CT with six. Over 10% of our total student population is in charter schools while the state is at 3%. Our school district had over $6,000,000 dollars in ECS funds siphoned off to these charter schools last year alone because we must cover their bus transportation and special ed. costs which is absurd. Under state statute, charter school students are defined as students of the “state” not the local school district, yet we must redirect our limited resources to fund charter school costs.  Just ten social workers for these charter schools cost us $1,000,000 last year. This upcoming school year, it is projected that we will be paying for more school busses to charter schools than our own Bridgeport Public Schools.

If you want to see the results of under regulated and over expansion of charter schools in urban cities, and how it negatively impacts true public schools, neighborhoods, and communities; one only has to look at Chicago, Philadelphia, Newark, Detroit, etc. where the siphoning off of billions of dollars has caused such strain on impoverished urban communities that some are on the verge of collapse.

Bridgeport was heavily involved in the CCJEF lawsuit and has waited over 9 years to have the courts rule in favor of what so many of us that live in impoverished urban cities already know; our schools have been severely underfunded for decades.  The ECS Taskforce Report stated … “the state must make a long-term commitment to increasing its proportional share of total educational funding in the state. This commitment must be faithfully carried out in the biennial state budget through annual increases in total state funding for education including funding the ECS grants)…”

Governor Malloy’s Proposed Budget requires Alliance Districts to maintain the 2017 Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR); however it gives the Mayor the authority to appeal to the state Board of Education for a waiver of the MBR requirement. In essence, the MBR would be non-binding. And the icing on the cake is that although the state may well increase ECS funding to a district, the city/town is NOT required to use those funds for their public schools.

The ECS Taskforce Report calculations placed Bridgeport as the most underfunded school district in CT on a cash basis with a projection that we were underfunded by approximately $48,000,000 on an annual basis.  Bridgeport spends approximately $14,000 per pupil, New Haven is at approximately $17,000, and Hartford is at approximately $19,000.

This proposed budget would reduce Bridgeport’s ECS Allocation by $26,000,000, eliminate $ 5,000,000 in the Special Education Excess Cost Grant, and add $13,000,000 in Teacher Pension costs with a total reduction in our budget of $43,779,868. We would gain $39,151,000 in the new Special Education Grant which will give Bridgeport a net loss of $ 4,658,051.  Hartford will lose $4,841,869 and New Haven will lose $20,261,091. Teacher Pension costs are expected to balloon over the next 15 years.  What will happen to our cities/towns then?

Is this what our 21,000 Bridgeport Public School children waited for after 9 years of litigation in which we prevailed, but the end result is they are losing close to $5,000,000 in state funding? Is this really the comprehensive funding plan to close the achievement gap? I certainly hope not.

Please reject Governor Malloy’s proposed Education Budget.

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.

BEWARE – Governor Dannel Malloy’s devastating cuts to public education

At a time when Connecticut’s students, parents and educators need and deserve adequate funding for the state’s public schools,  Governor Dannel Malloy has proposed the most drastic cuts to public education in Connecticut history.

In testimony last week before the Connecticut General Assembly, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF] identified the most serious problems with Malloy’s plan to slash funding for public schools in Connecticut.

As CCJEF explain, Malloy’s outrageous proposal,

Reduces overall state support for K-12 public education by at least $364 million

 

Zeroes out or reduces ECS funding to 131 municipalities/school districts.

 

The $428 million cut in ECS is justified by a fictional special education proxy that has no basis in per district special education student counts or expenses.

 

Lowers the ECS foundation amount from $11,525 to $8,999 for FY 18 and thereafter, but increases per pupil funding for charter schools from $11,000 to $11,500. [The ECS foundation amount in FY 08 was $9,687.]

 

Changes the student need factor in ECS from eligibility for Free and Reduced-Price Lunch to students eligible for HUSKY A medical benefits and lowers the student need multiplier in the formula from 30% to 20% in order to restrain district funding. [Note that undocumented immigrants are not eligible for HUSKY A medical benefits and that the Governor is also proposing to reduce eligibility for HUSKY A parents to 138% of poverty. About 9,500 parents will lose Medicaid under this proposal.] Student need should not be restricted to one proxy formula element but should represent the broad diversity of student needs in our state.

 

Zeroes out or reduces Special Education reimbursements to many municipalities/school districts and bases the 0 -54% reimbursement amount on a 5-year average of district Excess Cost reimbursements, not actual costs.

 

Imposes a new Teacher Retirement contribution mandate on all municipalities, regardless of wealth, equal to 1/3 of their teacher retirement costs. This new mandate is expected to cost municipalities $408 million in FY 18 and will increase every year thereafter. The Teachers’ Retirement System is a statutory construct outside of municipal/school district control. It is managed and controlled by the State.

 

The Governor’s education funding proposals will lower the State’s share of K-12 public education costs and increase the overreliance on the regressive local property tax to fund education.

Malloy’s proposal will lead to dramatic cuts in education programs and increased property taxes on the state’s middle income and working families – all while he continues his policy of coddling the rich.

The question now is whether the members of the Connecticut General Assembly will turn their backs on their constituents and do Malloy’s bidding or stand up to the bully and rewrite His proposed state budget.

Now is the time for Connecticut to conduct an Education Cost Adequacy Study

In testimony before the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee last week, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF] presented the rationale behind Connecticut conducting an Education Adequacy Cost Study in order to determine the level of resources that are really needed to ensure that every child has access to their constitutionally guaranteed right to a quality education.

CCJEF explained;

For too long Connecticut has developed education funding policy backwards and without hard data. For too long our State has let budget politics, special interests and perceived fiscal “realities” determine how much to spend on K-12 public education. State government time and time again has backed into an education funding amount and then corrupted the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula and other funding programs to deliver an agreed upon spending amount.

An Education Adequacy Cost Study is the necessary prerequisite to developing a new, rational and constitutional education finance system in Connecticut. Unlike the arbitrary, budget driven efforts of the past and present, an Education Adequacy Cost Study would provide hard, real-world data on student needs and what resources are necessary to meet our state constitutional responsibility to deliver an adequate and equitable educational opportunity for every K-12 public school student in our state.

CCJEF added;

An Education Adequacy Cost Study would ensure that the resource needs of all school districts – successful, struggling, and those in between – as well as the resources needed by regular and all special needs students are identified and quantified. It would then be up to policymakers and stakeholders to put these resource needs in fiscal context, determine a state and local share, and rationally develop an education funding formula and system that is based on actual student needs.

And CCJEF concluded;

Such a study is the necessary first step to developing a rational, effective and constitutional education funding and finance system that provides a truly adequate and equitable educational opportunity to every K-12 public school student in Connecticut. Let’s reject the mistakes of the past. We are all united in working to ensure the best opportunities for our public school students. An Education Adequacy Cost Study, jointly managed by the State and CCJEF, would send a strong message that we share common goals.

CCJEF’s call for a cost adequacy study is exactly the right step for Connecticut State Government.  The General Assembly should reject Governor Dannel Malloy’s record cuts to public education and instead conduct a fair and honest cost study, in conjunction with CCJEF, to determine the appropriate level of support for Connecticut’s public schools.