Some legislators want to shovel even more money to some of Connecticut’s Charter Schools

A recent article by Wendy Lecker entitled, Beware the new Connecticut legislative plan to channel even more public funds to charters, noted that a group of Democratic state legislators have released a plan aimed at diverting even more scarce public funds to Connecticut’s charter schools will doing little to address the underlying system that inadequately funds Connecticut’s public schools.

Turning their backs on the need for a state-wide school funding adequacy study, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) and State Representative Jason Rojas (D-East Hartford) have proposed an extraordinary school funding system that would promote a Trump/DeVos like “school choice” program in Connecticut.

Their plan would divert even more taxpayer funds to Connecticut’s charter schools, while taking money away from Connecticut’s successful magnet schools.

As the CT Mirror reported, their plan proposes to have the;

“…state calculate how much each local district spends to educate a student on average and then withhold one-quarter of that amount for each student who leaves for a magnet or charter school. The withheld funding would be sent to the school the child actually attends.

Currently districts do not get funding for students who leave for charter schools. However, districts still get state funding for students who leave for magnet schools, which is somewhat offset by tuition that magnets charge the sending districts.

The changes that Duff and Rojas propose would drive huge funding increases for several charter schools — including about $1,800 more per student for Achievement First Hartford Academy and $1,700 for Stamford Academy…

[…]

The network of regional magnet schools opened in the Hartford region in an effort to comply with a Connecticut Supreme Court order to desegregate Hartford schools would be hit hard by the changes, with a loss of $3,569 per student.

The legislators’ plan also fails to properly account for the added cost of educating students who require special educations services and those who need extra help learning the English Language.

One explanation for the proposal’s failures is that it appears to have been developed in conjunction with The Connecticut School Finance Project, a charter school advocacy front group that has been working closely – in violation of Connecticut’s ethics laws – with Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration.

Beware the new Connecticut legislative plan to channel even more public funds to charters

In a new piece published in the Stamford Advocate, education columnist and advocate Wendy Lecker reveals a stunning new proposal that would force taxpayers to give Connecticut’s charter schools even more scarce public funds.  Governor Dannel Malloy already gives Connecticut’s charter school more than $110 million a year and this year, while proposing the deepest cuts in state history to public schools, Malloy unveiled a plan to increase that amount by about 10 percent.  However, a group of Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly want to divert even more public funds to these privately owned, but publicly funded entities.

As Wendy Lecker explains;

Using the Betsy DeVos playbook, Norwalk Sen. Bob Duff and East Hartford Representatives Jason Rojas and Jeffrey Currey are pushing major changes to Connecticut’s school funding system, concocted by the charter front group, the Connecticut School Finance Project; in order to funnel money directly from school districts to privately run charter schools.

Currently, public school districts pay for the cost of education from: a state allocation, ostensibly calculated under Connecticut’s school funding formula, the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula; local funding, i.e. the local share; and some federal funds.

Charter schools are considered independent school districts, authorized and overseen by the state. Local communities have no say over the operation of charters within their borders. Charters are exempt from many requirements, such as having all certified teachers and serving all grade levels. Thus, it is logical that districts should not pay local dollars to charters. Charters are funded through a separate state funding stream, and receive federal and private funds.

However, the Connecticut School Finance Project proposal will now have local districts paying for these privately run charters. For every child attending a charter school, a local district will lose a portion of its ECS allocation equal to about 25 percent of its local per-pupil share. Charter schools will receive an ECS allocation that will cover the rest of its funding. So charters will get more state funding than the local school district, plus local districts will now pay them an additional penalty for each charter school student. As charters expand, districts will lose more.

The DeVos team used this strategy in Michigan. They instituted a system where money intended for public schools flowed to charters. They then fought for explosive charter growth. This toxic combination decimated budgets and schools of Michigan’s poorest cities, such as Detroit.

Worse still, this proposal fails to fund Connecticut schools adequately. A foundation aid formula, like ECS, is only adequate if its components are: i.e., the foundation amount, the amount necessary to educate one child with no special needs; and the weights that adjust the foundation amount for different needs, like students living in poverty, English Language Learners and students with disabilities.

This proposal’s foundation amount is not based on any assessment of the cost of education in Connecticut. Instead the proposed foundation amount is supposedly derived from average spending in other states — a ludicrous way to estimate the cost of education here. The proposal does not even consider spending on operating expenses, i.e. the expenses needed to run a district. It only considers spending on a narrow selection of expenses they call “core instructional costs.” It is no wonder the foundation amount this group proposes is lower than Connecticut’s foundation amount back in 2007-08.

The proposed student need weights are also not based on the actual additional cost of serving needy students. The 30 percent poverty weight is less than half of what experts say is needed to educate poor students. The proposal omits additional weighting for students living in severe poverty, who are costlier to serve. Why? Because charters tend to serve students who are less poor than their host public school districts. If the formula does not differentiate, then charters are rewarded for continuing to ignore the most disadvantaged.

The proposed ELL weight is a ridiculous 10 percent — only one-tenth of what it necessary to fund education for these students. It will particularly harm districts with large and growing populations of ELL kids. However, charters routinely under-serve ELL students, so a low weight means they will not get penalized financially for continuing this practice.

This proposal removes special education funds from the ECS allocation. For a group claiming its aim is a “unified” formula for all students, why omit students with disabilities? Special education is the thorniest cost to deal with when privatizing schools. Removing it clears the way for charter expansion.

And though some districts stand to gain this year (especially Duff’s, and Rojas’ and Currey’s), the proposal reduces the state share of funding for our poorest districts.

Even proponents admit this proposal woefully underfunds Connecticut schools. The group acknowledges that the ECS formula is currently underfunded by more than $600 million. Realistic estimates conclude that the total shortfall is over $1.5 billion.

Yet this proposal plans to increase school funding by only $320 million — over six years! And there is no mechanism to increase state funding as costs rise.

Raiding public school funds to favor privately run charters, that serve less than 2 percent of Connecticut students, is not equity. It will leave our neediest students with less.

You can read and comment on the full article at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-A-new-plan-to-channel-local-funds-11058087.php

Connecticut will no longer use SBAC and SAT as part of teacher performance evaluations.

As the CT Mirror reports,

The state Board of Education voted late Wednesday afternoon to adopt new usage standards for state mastery test data, explicitly prohibiting the use of those test scores in evaluating teacher performance.

[…]

State education board Chairman Allan B. Taylor and Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell both praised the board’s approval of the plan as an important clarification of the role state tests should play: a goal-setting tool for teachers, not part of a formula for rating an individual teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom.

While state mastery tests – which include the Smarter Balanced assessments, SAT, CMT and CAPT science – are no longer an option, school districts are still required to measure teachers in part on their students’ testing success, which makes up 22.5 percent of the teacher evaluation rating. Now, school districts will have to choose from a number of non-state exams to evaluate teachers in that category.

In a written response, the Connecticut Education Association posted;

This is a big victory for students, teachers, and public education,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen. “The voices and expertise of teachers were heard and addressed by policymakers who did the right thing by putting the focus back where it belongs: on teaching, learning, and student achievement.”

[…]

Cohen concluded, “We feel confident that these new guidelines will have positive outcomes for everyone—students, teachers, and administrators—and will allow us to continue to move forward to improve the educational opportunities for all public school students in Connecticut.”

While the state’s action is an important and positive step, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test and the SAT will still be used for the unfair and discriminatory labeling of students, teachers and schools.

The State Board of Education Action means the SBAC and SAT will be used for the following inappropriate purposes;

Informing goals for individual educators
Informing professional development for individual educators
Discussion at the summative evaluation conference
Informing collaborative goals
Informing professional learning for groups or teams of educators
Any communications around planning
Development of curriculum
Program evaluation
Selecting or evaluating effectiveness of materials/resources
School/district improvement planning
Informing whole school professional development to support school improvement

The complete CT Mirror story can be found via the following link: https://ctmirror.org/2017/04/06/ct-scraps-using-state-test-scores-to-compute-teacher-ratings/

Media fails to properly report on Malloy plan to destroy Connecticut’s community college system

In a stunning development yesterday, Governor Malloy’s former chief of staff – who know serves as the President of the Connecticut State University and Community College System – proposed a devastating plan that would undermine Connecticut’s Community College System and remove important independent functions of Connecticut’s State Universities.

In the initial news coverage of this breaking news, Connecticut media outlets have failed to focus on the proposal’s negative impacts, instead parroting the empty rhetoric and broad generalities contained in the Malloy administration’s press release.

The CT Mirror reported,

“The Board of Regents for Higher Education will be asked Thursday to endorse a framework for saving at least $41 million annually through the administrative and operational consolidations of institutions that have remained autonomous since the merger in 2011 of the state’s 12 community colleges, four regional state universities and the online college, Charter Oak.”

As for the dramatic plan to strip each college community college of its leadership and administrative teams the news story only adds,

Facing a shrinking college-age population and growing budget gaps, the system’s president, Mark Ojakian, released an outline Monday for an “operational consolidation” unifying the community colleges into a centrally managed institution that would retain its dozen campuses while shedding administrators at an annual saving of $28 million.

“Unifying the community college system” is hardly an adequate explanation of the extraordinary negative impact that would occur by eliminating the community college presidents and campus based leadership teams that presently run each of the state’s twelve community colleges.

Perhaps the most astonishing and disturbing aspect of the entire development is that without legislative or public input the Connecticut State University and Community College Board of Regents are expected to vote on adopting this terrible proposal this coming Thursday.

Media coverage of the proposal can be found via the following links;

CT Mirror: https://ctmirror.org/2017/04/03/ojakian-pitches-sweeping-consolidations-to-keep-cscu-viable/

New Haven Register: http://www.nhregister.com/social-affairs/20170403/president-of-state-colleges-and-universities-system-proposal-would-cut-13-million-in-back-office-jobs

Courant:  http://www.courant.com/education/hc-cscu-sweeping-budget-plan-20170403-story.html

Breaking News – Malloy administration to destroy Connecticut’s historic community college system

For years Connecticut’s public colleges and universities have been the target of Governor Dannel Malloy’s draconian budget cuts.  Year after year Malloy has approached funding Connecticut’s system of public higher education like it was a needless “commodity.”

Now, in a stunning move, and in direct response to Governor Malloy’s Budget proposal, the President of the Connecticut State University and Community College system has just announced that he is seeking the “operational consolidation” of Connecticut’s 12 community colleges “into one that is centrally managed.”

The extraordinary destructive maneuver will undermine Connecticut’s commitment to providing its citizens with a comprehensive set of locally based community colleges.

President Ojakian, who formerly served as Malloy’s Chief of Staff, is proposing, the “significant reduction of campus leadership and management” which will leave the institutions without local leadership.

Connecticut’s community colleges have been extraordinarily successful and, if adopted, this proposal will utterly decimate individual college’s ability to provide the locally driven education programs that have been the hallmark of their success.

More about this terrible proposal as it becomes available.

The following is the media statement by President Ojakian – http://www.ct.edu/newsroom/a_message_from_president_ojakian_regarding_cscu_administrative_consolidatio

Progress made on making Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system fairer

The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test is an unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory measure that seeks to determine how well public school children are doing.  Despite the massive problems with the testing scheme, supporters of the testing program have argued that the test should be used to judge and label students, teachers and public schools.

In a significant development, it appears that the State of Connecticut may, at the very least, be taking steps to ensure that the test results are not inappropriately used as part of Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system.

As the Connecticut Education Assocation is reporting,

“The Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) took a giant step forward in addressing teachers’ concerns regarding the use of state mastery examination results in teacher evaluations. PEAC defined the clear use and purpose of the state mastery exam, agreeing that it should not be used to evaluate teachers.

PEAC unanimously agreed to recommend new guidelines for educator support and evaluation programs to the State Board of Education. These new guidelines support the use of state mastery test scores to inform educator goal setting and to inform professional development planning, but prohibit their use as a measure of goal attainment or in the calculation of the summative rating for an educator.

If adopted by the State Board of Education at its next meeting – April 5, 2017 – the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) test would still be used for a variety of purposes but would play a much more limited role in the teacher evaluation process.  The SBAC test could still be used for the following purposes;

Informing goals for individual educators
Informing professional development for individual educators
Discussion at the summative evaluation conference
Informing collaborative goals
Informing professional learning for groups or teams of educators
Any communications around planning
Development of curriculum
Program evaluation
Selecting or evaluating effectiveness of materials/resources
School/district improvement planning
Informing whole school professional development to support school improvement

However, according to the agreement approved by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC), the Common Core SBAC test would not be used for Inclusion in the calculation of the rating in the summative evaluation of a public school teacher or part of the teacher SLO/goal attainment process.

Not surprisingly, the Malloy administration focused on the continued use of the SBAC testing program.  A statement issued by Malloy’s Department of Education explained;

The Connecticut Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) on Wednesday voted to preserve the role of state mastery tests in the educator evaluation and support system to inform goal-setting and professional development planning, but not as a measure used to calculate a final evaluation rating.

The recommendation by PEAC, the panel of education partners tasked with developing an educator evaluation system that works toward the goal of ensuring every child has access to a high quality education, now goes to the State Board of Education for consideration.

“Our goal is to ensure teachers have the tools and support they need to continuously improve their practice and deliver high-quality teaching and learning in the classroom,” said Commissioner of Education Dianna R. Wentzell. “Today’s recommendation by PEAC affirms the consensus among Connecticut education stakeholders that state mastery tests provide a valid and reliable estimate of student achievement and that they can play an important role in goal-setting for educators.”

Check back for more on this developing story

Malloy Budget Cuts undermine quality early child care programs in Connecticut

Connecticut Voices for Children, a non-partisan research group, has produced a new report on the devastating impact that Governor Dannel Malloy’s budget is having on Connecticut’s Care 4 Kids program.

CT Voices reports;

The Care 4 Kids child care subsidy has played a key role in providing quality child care to low-income working families in Connecticut, enrolling an average of about 21,000 children per month in 2016.

 Last summer, however, increased program costs driven by federally mandated quality improvements resulted in a $33 million budget shortfall.

To address that budget gap, the Office of Early Childhood (OEC) closed enrollment for the program, leading to a current waitlist of about 3,000 families.  The waitlist is projected to increase to 5,000 families by July 2017.

[…]

We find that 30% of children age under five in the state live in low-income families that qualify for Care 4 Kids – but instead of receiving subsidies, these children and their families are placed on a waitlist with no definitive end date. Moreover, in 49% of Connecticut towns, Care 4 Kids is the only form of state support for child care. Under the Governor’s proposed budget, the subsidy program may not reopen until 2019, leaving thousands of parents with untenable choices. The legislature must adopt a budget that fully funds Care 4 Kids this year –our report presents policy solutions to make that happen.

The full policy report, which is entitled Care 4 Kids in Connecticut – The Impact of Program Closure on Children, Parents, explains the impact of Changes to Care 4 Kids Eligibility as follows;

Since the Closure of Care 4 Kids, enrollment has dropped significantly. The current waitlist contains about 3,000 families. The waitlist is projected to increase to about 5,000 families by July 2017.

Connecticut may see a decline in the number of child care centers and home day care providers. Loss of child care funding could have a spiraling effect, as centers and home care providers that receive partial funding from Care 4 Kids subsidies close their doors and are thus unable to meet the needs of other working parents.

Thousands of families may face a summer camp crisis. Care 4 Kids enrollment increases during the summer: 2,200 families requested “summer only” child care subsidies in 2016. Given the closure of Care 4 Kids to new applicants, we predict about 2,200 families (in addition to the regular waitlist) may be unable to afford safe child care this coming summer.

The CT Voices report concludes;

Even in difficult fiscal times, our state must protect the most vulnerable from harm. Care 4 Kids – which helps children access quality child care and education, enables low-income parents to work, and supports the statewide child care system on which all parents depend – is a critical program that must be protected.

Read the full report at: http://www.ctvoices.org/sites/default/files/Care%204%20Kids%20Brief%20%20Final.pdf

Say NO to the unfair Common Core SBAC testing scam

SBAC testing season is, once again, taking shape across Connecticut.  Rather than focus on lessons and learning, Connecticut’s public schools will be wasting massive amounts of time and resources on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test.  It is a scheme that not only wastes time and money but damages education by artificially labeling and judging children, teachers and public schools.

The responsible course of action it to refuse to allow your children to be used by the corporate education reform industry and those that are committed to their destructive strategies.

Opt your students out by telling your school that your child will not be taking the Common Core SBAC test this year.

Change the Stakes, a New York based pro-public education advocacy group, provides Eight Reasons to Opt Out of SBAC testing.  Change the Stakes explains;

  1. When students, teachers and schools are rewarded for high test scores and punished for low ones, the tests themselves become the focus of education. Class time is devoted to test prep, which robs children of their natural desire to learn.
  2. The state exams test only two subjects: English and math. That encourages schools to give less time to social studies, music, art, world languages, physical education, and even science.
  3. High-stakes testing undermines important learning. In its 2011 report to Congress, the National Academy of Sciences reviewed America’s test-based accountability systems and concluded, “There are little to no positive effects of these systems overall on student learning and educational progress.”
  4. State exams are loaded with poorly written, ambiguous questions. For example, a statement signed by 545 New York State Principals noted that many teachers and principals could not agree on the correct answers.
  5. While states are paying private test contractors millions of dollars, our public schools do not have the resources they need to ensure every child gets a quality education. This is part of a national trend: states cut funding to public schools while pouring millions into new computer systems designed for Common Core tests.
  6. High-stakes tests don’t help students learn or teachers teach. The results come too late for that. The tests are largely punitive: they punish teachers, students, and schools that don’t perform. Low test scores can be used to hold good students back and rate strong teachers as “ineffective” despite high ratings by their principals.
  7. High-stakes testing undermines teacher collaboration. The teacher evaluation system is undermining teamwork and cooperatives activities between teachers.
  8. One-size-fits-all tests punish and discourage students who are already vulnerable, including students of color, English-Language Learners, children with special needs, and students from families living in poverty.

Change the Stakes adds:

We strongly reject the way high-stakes standardized tests are hurting our children and denying them high-quality teaching in a healthy atmosphere that fosters the full development of their capabilities.

The Department of Education and the State Education Department have made testing a substitute for education. Testing has come to dominate school activity, dimming children’s natural enthusiasm for learning.  It has made 8-year olds anxious about what could happen if they don’t do well on the tests.

So much time is spent preparing students to take the annual statewide exams, field tests and an endless number of other tests that history, music, art and gym have been squeezed out of the school day.

Testing has been used to bully teachers, turning them into drill instructors who must follow stifling classroom routines to generate high test scores.  It has made teachers fear for their jobs, knowing they will be rated ineffective if their students don’t do well on unreliable exams.  It has made them compete against each other in an effort to survive, rather than work cooperatively.

And it has forced principals to intensify pressure to produce good-looking results, no matter what, because they are being threatened with the reorganization or possible closure of their schools if they fail to do so.

These different forms of punishment inflicted upon the public school system by high stakes testing have been called accountability.  The end result has been to create hundreds and hundreds of elementary and middle schools in which disruption and instability are the norm.

Students, teachers and principals are held accountable, but the low quality of the tests themselves is never accounted for.

Still there is another equally troubling and unacceptable aspect of all the testing.  As more and more testing has been piled on every child—parents have been left out of the discussion.

We are offended by the lack of respect shown to parents who have been kept in the dark by the federal and state officials about all the testing that is taking place and we demand immediate and specific answers to basic questions.  We are entitled to a complete test inventory—a matter of accountability on the part of the city and state officials responsible for approving, organizing and implementing the various testing programs.

Connecticut parents, now is the time to stand up for our children, their teachers and our public schools.

Like tens of thousands of parents are doing in New York State, opt your children out of the Common Core testing frenzy.

Begin by writing to your child’s teacher and principal telling them that your child is not to participate in the SBAC test.

And remember, there is no federal or state law, regulation or policy that prevents an individual parent from refusing to have their child participate in the annual testing program.

The law requires schools to conduct the tests, it does not prevent parents from opting their children out of them.

A fair, comprehensive Education Adequacy Cost Study is the key to reforming Connecticut’s school funding system

In testimony before the Connecticut General Assembly’s Education Committee yesterday, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF] explained why a cost study is so critically important to the development of a fair and comprehensive school funding formula.  CCJEF explained:

Why an Education Adequacy Cost Study for Connecticut?

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 a target spending amount.  This has been the harsh reality since the inception of the ECS grant. Since 2013 we have not even maintained the fiction of using the ECS formula.

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.

Connecticut’s shame is to tolerate some of the most economically and racially segregated school districts in the nation.

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 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.

An Education Adequacy Cost Study Must Be Done With Integrity

One of the keys to success for any costing out study is having stakeholder buy-in on the adequacy standard that is being costed out.  A standard includes identifying everything that is expected of students, teachers, administrators, schools, districts, school boards and the State.

CCJEF supports the adequacy cost study process recommended by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates (APA) in the letter attached to this testimony.

Also attached is the testimony of the Education Adequacy Project of Yale Law School that was delivered on March1, 2017.

It is critical to the credibility of the study that CCJEF and other key stakeholders participate with the State Department of Education in developing a consensus adequacy standard to be costed out.  This process should be transparent and unbiased.

CCJEF recommends that the Committee amend R.B. No. 7270 to ensure stakeholder participation in an adequacy study of public school funding in our state.

Conclusion

CCJEF supports the education adequacy cost study called for in Section 3 of R.B. 7270 but asks   the Committee to ensure CCJEF and other stakeholder participation in the study to ensure its integrity and credibility.  Ideally, the study would be jointly managed by CCJEF and the State Department of Education. 

Let’s reject the mistakes of the past.

An education adequacy cost study is the necessary first step toward 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.