Malloy’s proposed state budget slashes aid to Connecticut’s public schools

Call it devastating, draconian or simply a vicious attack on Connecticut’s children, parents, educators and public schools, the governor who has consistently worked to undermine and privatize public education, since taking office in 2011, has now proposed a new state budget that destroys Connecticut’s already failing constitutional requirement to adequately fund its public schools.

In an effort to avoid raising state taxpayers and maintain the state’s system of coddling the rich from paying their fair share income taxes, Governor Dannel Malloy has called for shifting $407 million in teacher retirement payments to cities and towns in the first year of his proposed budget, an amount that would increase to $420.9 million in the second year of the biannual budget plan.

In addition, rather than appropriately fund Connecticut’s education grants, Malloy’s budget plan seeks to redirect existing state aid for public schools to Connecticut’s poorer towns by slashing grants to wealthier and middle income communities.

Overall, 31 Connecticut communities would see an increase in aid while 138 towns would get less state funds, with many towns getting significantly less state education funding.

Making the situation far worse, Malloy’s budget plan allows most towns to redirect what education aid they will receive away from their public schools.  Rather than requiring towns to maintain their school budgets, Connecticut communities could use what aid they receive to pay for non-education expenditures.

Together these two developments will produce devastating cuts to education programs across Connecticut.

In his effort to pinpoint which communities win and which lose, Malloy is also proposing a significant change to the way in which poverty is defined, a factor that drives how much money towns get under Connecticut’s education formulas.

Presently, poverty is based on the number of students who qualify for free or reduced-priced meals in each community.  But Malloy’s proposal would replace that system with the number of people who participate in the state’s health insurance plan for children, called Husky A.

The system appears to be designed to help Hartford and a handful of other towns, but raises significant equity issues.  Daniel Long, an expert with Connecticut Voices for children explained,

“The concern is that you would underestimate poverty.”

Speaking with Long, the CT Mirror added,

“Long said that in other states that have shifted to using Medicaid to measure poverty, ‘it was used as a tool to lower who is counted.’ By using the number who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, the state is ‘erring on the side of providing that additional aid.’”

When examining the list of “winners and losers” in Malloy’s plan, the governor’s strategy becomes evident.  The CT Mirror notes,

Hartford, which is facing the possibility of insolvency, is one of the biggest winners in the governor’s proposed budget. Hartford stands to gain $38.1 million in state aid next year, a 17 percent increase. Nearly $12.2 million of that would come from education grants, though it will be up to Bronin and his City Council to decide whether to send it to the struggling city schools. 

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, Malloy’s former legal counsel, was the Greenwich native who moved to Hartford and was elected to the city’s top executive position last year.

Meanwhile, opposition to Malloy’s plan was swift with many towns announcing that his proposal would lead to massive cuts to public schools and large property tax increases in the majority of Connecticut communities.

In addition, a spokesperson for The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education, the plaintiffs in the CCJEF V. Rell school funding lawsuit condemned Malloy’s plan for moving the state in exactly the wrong direction when it comes to properly funding Connecticut’s public schools.

 “These proposed new cuts in state educational support underscore the need for judicial action to ensure that state government meets and does not retreat from its state constitutional responsibilities,” said James J. Finley, principal consultant to CCJEF and an expert witness in the case.

While Malloy has claimed that his plan was designed to take from the rich and give to the poor, the state’s middle income communities are among the hardest hit by Malloy’s funding scheme.

For example, Groton would lose $14.1 million in state aid and Milford would lose $12.1 million.  Other towns hit hard by Malloy’s budget plan include Wallingford, Glastonbury and Fairfield, but dozens of towns would face cuts in state aid that were such that it would lead to massive cuts in local school programs and major property tax increases.

As the lobbyist for Connecticut’s small towns decried,

 “The governor’s proposed changes to ECS and special education funding, coupled with his proposal to require towns to pick up one-third of the cost of teacher pension costs, will make it impossible for small towns to fund education without staggering increases in local property taxes.”

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

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

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

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

As the CT Mirror explains;

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

The CT Mirror added;

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

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

[…]

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

As one representative for communities told CT Newsjunkie;

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

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

CT Mirror – Malloy proposes shaking up state education aid

CT Newjunkie – Malloy Will Pitch Changes To Education Formula

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

 

Connecticut – Beware the charter school industry’s proposed new school funding scheme

The charter school front groups, ConnCAN and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, with the help of the Connecticut School Finance Project, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) – the latter two groups which are funded through local school budgets and are supposed to be advocating for public schools – have proposed a set of principles for a new school funding formula for Connecticut that will undermine the state’s public school districts and drain local municipal budgets.

The new pro-charter school plan is based on the school funding formula in Rhode Island and it is a classic “Money Follows the Child” system that would mean that, in addition to collecting about $110 million a year from the State of Connecticut, the state’s privately owned and operated Charter Schools would grab an additional $40-$50 million a year in public funds from the local schools in Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, Stamford, Hamden, Norwich and Manchester.

The operative language in the new charter school sponsored formula reads;

“A combination of state and local funds should be allocated to schools of choice on a per student basis, so that the total per-pupil funding for these students will go to the schools or districts of choice.”

This public money “follows the child” plan is particularly appalling and inappropriate because charter schools are not accountable to elected local board of education.  Local school districts have no say in whether charter schools are created, where they are located, which children they educate or refuse to educate, nor do local boards of education have control over any other charter school policy or practice.

The operative question is why should local taxpayers pay for a school that is utterly unaccountable to the local community?

In addition, Connecticut’s charter schools are notorious for discriminating against Latino students, students who require additional help learning the English language, children who need special education services and those who display disciplinary problems.

Furthermore, charter schools in Connecticut do not face the same costs as public schools since,  among other things, they refuse to allow educators to unionize and in most cases only half the teachers (or even fewer) have been certified under Connecticut’s strict teacher preparation programs.

The truth is that Connecticut charter schools also DO NOT pay for transporting students to or from their school nor do they pay for any special education costs associated with their students – those costs are already picked up by the local school districts.

Although pro-charter school Governor Malloy will undoubtedly use this plan as his proposed formula when he announces his school funding plan next month, the plan is bad for Connecticut’s students, parents, educators, public schools and taxpayers.

His efforts to privatize public education in Connecticut know no bounds and the charter school industry’s newest proposal is simply a stunning money grab from school districts that are already massively underfunded.

A cost study conducted in 2005 found that Connecticut was underfunding its schools by approximately $2 billion a year, leaving schools without the resources they need to close the achievement gap and help all students succeed.  A new cost study – which is sorely needed and which the school funding advocates (CCJEF) are calling for —one done to reflect current costs, taking into account all our new mandates and standards,  and current student demographics and need – will undoubtedly show a similar if not even larger gap in state funding.

This incredible pro-charter school funding proposal would make the situation even worse for Connecticut’s urban districts.

The plan is being put forward by:
CT Association of Boards of Education (CABE)
CT Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS)
CT Association of Schools (CAS)
CT Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN)
CT Council for Education Reform (CCER)

Finally, the reality that CABE and CAPSS are joining the charter school industry in promoting such a disastrous funding plan is a disturbing indictment of their failure to represent the citizens of Connecticut and a gross violation of their mission, purpose and nonprofit status.  Compounding their dereliction of duty is the fact that these two groups are part of the CCJEF coalition yet their scheme harms the very children, parents, public and schools and poorer towns and cities that CCJEF has been fighting so hard and so long to help.

For more about how charter schools are seeking to undermine Connecticut’s public schools read, Draining dollars from our students by Wendy Lecker

In her column, Wendy Lecker wrote;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Cotto Jr. – Disciplining Connecticut’s Schools: A critique of the Judge’s Decision on the CCJEF Education Funding Case

Disciplining Connecticut’s Schools: A critique of the Judge’s Decision on the CCJEF Education Funding Case – by Robert Cotto Jr. – 

“If the emperor was a weak man, the sight of his mark would evoke laughter and contempt, but if he was a stern and powerful ruler, his mark would instill fear and obedience.”

The Lords of Discipline, Pat Conroy, p. 213.

In the book Lords of Discipline, based on the Citadel military college, the general offered his cadets words of advice at their ring ceremony: be the powerful ruler that instills obedience and fear, otherwise suffer defeat. When I first read the judge’s decision in the CCJEF v. Rell school funding case, it struck me as similarly militaristic. Judge Moukawsher, a lawyer and graduate of the Citadel military college, ruled that his problem with Connecticut public education was an issue of discipline, not necessarily a lack of resources. Rather than declaring a war on inequality or inadequacy, the judge declared war on a “slack system”. While news accounts called the judge’s decision an “overhaul”, the ruling was more of a directive to continue public education’s most regressive tendencies.

The valiant CCJEF argument against the State relied on a common-sense idea: every child has a right to a rich, well-rounded education for all children that is adequately funded by the State. Advocates and parents in towns and cities brought the case forward as a Constitutional challenge more than a decade ago believing that public education was inadequately funded, particularly in less wealthy towns and cities. Past court cases, such as the Horton case, argued that Connecticut’s method of funding schools mainly through local property taxes was unfair to towns and cities with a limited ability to pay for public schools. The CCJEF case made a different argument.

There were three parts of the CCJEF argument. First, Connecticut has broad goals for public education such as ensuring that kids become productive members of society and engaged citizens. Second, the State needs to provide adequate or enough funding to accomplish those goals. Third, funding must be equitably distributed, or the funds needed to reach those goals might differ from town to town because students might require more or less help to reach the same goals depending on where they live and other characteristics like poverty, town wealth, language status, and racial identification.

The CCJEF plaintiffs acknowledged that Connecticut’s current method of funding schools was progressive, but inadequate and increasingly inequitable. Over the last thirty years, Connecticut supplemented local education funds from property taxes with State funds in order to create a progressive funding system. That system eventually became called the “Educational Cost Sharing” (ECS) grant and it has produced a certain degree of equity in educational funding. (e.g. Less wealthy towns get more State funding; wealthier towns get less State funding). But the State was underfunding that ECS fund and increasingly favoring wealthier towns by never taking away funds. In some cases, wealthier towns got even more funding as poorer districts lost state funds, a point made painfully clear by the judge.

As a fight for resources towards these broad goals, the CCJEF paralleled past fights for the educational rights of Black and Latinx children, children living in poverty, bilingual children, as well as children with disabilities. However, these civil rights battles also included claims for greater control over the resources and type of education provided to Black and Latinx students. The CCJEF plaintfiffs, the State, nor the judge deliberated these issues.

Still, after years of hearings and testimony that documented public schools without sufficient resources (and funding) to provide an education worth its name, the CCJEF finally had its days in court over the last year. This year’s legislative session might also feature some response to the judge’s orders.

Watch a video version of this lecture here.

Contrary to the argument presented by the CCJEF plaintiffs, the judge found that Connecticut already, “spends more than the bare minimum on schools” (Moukawsher, 2016, p.23). The judge dismissed evidence from teachers and parents that their schools lacked adequate resources as “anecdotal” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 24). According to the judge’s reading of the law, as long as public school students got classrooms with desks, chairs, air to breathe, a teacher, textbooks, and a curriculum, the State had fulfilled most of its obligation to provide an equal educational opportunity. He concluded that, “there is no proof of a statewide problem caused by the state sending school district too little money” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 24). The CCJEF plaintiffs lost this major part of their argument. At that point, the judge could have stopped his ruling, but he went further.

Going further than the initial lawsuit required, the Judge redefined an adequate education to mean one that could be measured through “objective” tests in elementary and high school. When all kids passed standardized tests that would mean that there was a rational and adequate education. And if kids did not pass the tests, then they should not be able to just “pass” to the next grade. To that end, the judge ordered the State and its subordinates to “define” education by using “exit exams” for students to leave the 3rd, 8th, and 12th grade. Here, the battle turned against the plaintiffs. The judge outflanked the plaintiffs by conflating standardized testing with equal educational opportunity.

For the judge, the State spent enough money on schools, but the State failed to compel everybody to implement the basic goals of education: kids passing basic reading and math tests. He stated his reasoning here:

…the state must propose a definition of what it means to have an elementary school education that is rationally and primarily related to developing basic literacy and numeracy skills needed for secondary school. No definition without force behind it can be rational, especially since the state would already say that is has amply laid out what elementary schools should achieve by adopting common core standards. Here the difference between a definition and a constitutionally adequate definition is that the former may have no real consequence while the latter requires substantial consequences. (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 59-60)

For the judge, third grade and high school students in the State’s resource-poor cities could not read at the “basic” level because their basic training had failed. Education, like the military, requires authorities to provide orders to their subordinates, who must follow. Although the state already has content standards and standardized tests connected to graduation requirements, teacher evaluations, school ratings, and so on, the judge believed that these tools were not wielded with sufficient authority and discipline by the State. If kids were not passing basic standardized tests, then somebody must suffer negative consequences. As the judge stated, “There is no room for a slack system to support cities like Bridgeport” (Moukawsher, 2016, 37). Poor student test results must mean somebody is slacking off and should be removed, fired, or dismissed. For the court, the educational system would only be rational and adequate when the State removed the weakest links, or the people and funding that don’t raise test results. This sweeping social analysis of Connecticut’s education system came as a surprise to those that have experienced the blunt force of the No Child Left Behind Act or Race to The Top, or other educational reforms that do, in fact, target various people to punish.

This vision for an educational system was Spartan and contradictory. It hinged on ranking kids, teachers, schools, and districts, then removing the weakest links. In the case of special education, the judge argued that, “school officials never consider the possibility that the education appropriate for some students may be extremely limited because they are too profoundly disabled to get any benefit from elementary or secondary school education” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 76). Presumably, money could be saved by cutting services for these students with disabilities to save the funds for the kids that “can learn”.

Somebody should be punished when “objective” tests showed that kids could not read at basic level. Only when kids passed tests and moved onto the next grade or graduation, then they could be said to have an “adequate” education. If they didn’t pass, then they couldn’t move forward. Showing a misunderstanding of standardized test results, the judge did not see much value in measures in which everybody could pass. He stated, “An inflated teacher evaluation system, like a graduation or graduation system where everyone succeeds, is virtually useless (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 63).” Useful tests and standards rate people and some people must fail by design. But the judge did not take up the question of what happens when kids and adults are punished for never passing tests and evaluations that fail people by design. As Wendy Lecker and other lawyers suggested, this ruling emboldened past and current corporate education reform initiatives. Rather than an overhaul of education, the judge ordered schools to escalate their most regressive tendencies such as testing, sorting people, removing “weak” links, and punishing non-conformists.

In terms of educational leadership, the judge wanted public schools to be more “tightly coupled”. In other words, schools must pick a goal, measure the goal, meet the goal or suffer consequences. It either did not matter or did not occur to the judge that schools might require “loose coupling”, or a set of broad goals implemented with a different type of leadership and management given the complexity of American schooling (Weick, 1976; Meyer and Rowan, 1977).

A positive aspect of the judge’s order for the plaintiffs was that it allowed the State to provide more funding for schools if schools wished to provide these opportunities, but it was not required to spend any more because it was already funding the bare minimum it needed. Redistribution of state funds was also possible, but not required under this ruling. Sadly, the things we find help kids in schools such as support professionals, arts, music, health, computers, recess, and fun were just irrational “extras” for this judge (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 40). Rich districts might be able to offer these opportunities through their own local funding, but the State is not required to fund these opportunities in middle and working class schools where the majority of Black and Latinx students reside.

To be sure, the judge acknowledged that economic status, targeted school funding, and other factors can influence academic success. Connecticut only needed to make a funding formula, connect it to test results and evaluations, then stick to it and deliver punishments for not complying and performing.  By radically redefining adequacy to “rational” discipline as measured by test scores, the ruling was a regressive departure from the idea of a rich, well-rounded public education for children, particularly for Black, Latinx, and children of all ethnic groups living in poverty.

With his Citadel ring on his finger as he read the ruling from the bench, the Judge told the State of Connecticut, be the stern and powerful school emperor that instills fear and obedience through tests and punishments. Only that would be a “rational, substantial, and verifiable” public education, even if it’s not adequately or equitably funded by the State.

Note: The State of Connecticut (defendants) and CCJEF (plaintiffs) have appealed the decisions and the Supreme Court has allowed that appeal to move forward.

You can read and comment on Robert Cotto Jr’s commentary piece at: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2017/01/02/disciplining-connecticuts-schools/

You can see Robert Cotto’s lecture on the topic at: https://vimeo.com/184936476

 

Breaking News – In unprecedented maneuver, Malloy cuts $20 million in school aid in the middle of the fiscal year

As if it wasn’t bad enough that Connecticut already underfunds its public schools, under the effective darkness of the holiday week, Governor Dannel Malloy’s administration announced today that he is slashing $20 million from Connecticut’s Education Funding (ECS) Formula.

As testimony in the CCJEF v. Rell school funding lawsuit made clear earlier this year, Connecticut’s utter failure to properly fund its public schools is hurting Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and schools.  The lack of appropriate state aid for education also unfairly shifts the tax burden onto Connecticut’s local property taxpayers … a move that disproportionately hurts Connecticut’s middle income families.

But now Malloy is making the situation even worse by cutting state aid for education to Connecticut’s cities and towns right in the middle of the school year, a tactic that will leave communities on the hook for making emergency cuts to programs or trying to come up with alternative revenue to maintain existing programs that are designed to benefit Connecticut’s public school students.

It was only a few weeks ago that Malloy and his operatives were intentionally misleading Connecticut voters by claiming that the state budget was balanced when a growing deficit was actually taking shape.

Now, rather than target wasteful spending, Malloy is aiming his budget ax directly at some of the state’s most important and vulnerable citizens.

By dumping his fiscal problems on local property taxpayers, Malloy continues his warped approach of coddling the rich at the expense of everyone else.

In addition, Malloy’s state department of education announced earlier this week that it is seeking proposals to fund even more charter schools, a strategy that will divert even more scarce funds away from public schools and to the private sector.

Check back for more on this breaking story in the days ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Judge botched rulings on education policy by Wendy Lecker

Education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker returns to the recent CCJEF v. Rell legal decision in her weekend piece in the Stamford Advocate.  You can read and comment on her piece at:  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Judge-botched-rulings-on-education-9945947.php

Judge botched rulings on education policy by Wendy Lecker

In issuing his decision in the CCJEF school-funding case last month, Judge Thomas Moukawsher claimed he was faithfully following the dictates of the Connecticut Supreme Court. However, it is clear that the judge ignored a major warning by our highest court: that the judiciary is “ill-equipped” to deal with educational policy matters. Nowhere is this disregard of the court’s warning more evident than in Moukawsher’s rulings on high school and teacher evaluation. In these rulings, the judge contravened the mountain of academic and experiential evidence showing that what he proposes is dead wrong.

First, the judge declared that Connecticut should institute standardized high school exit exams. The judge decided that because Connecticut does not have “rational” and “verifiable” high school standards, meaning standards measured by a high school exit exam, Connecticut diplomas for students in poor districts are “patronizing and illusory.” He concluded that the cure for this problem is standardized, “objective” exams that students must pass to graduate.

In pushing this proposal, the judge relied heavily on one defense witness, Dr. Eric Hanushek, a witness whose testimony has been flatly rejected in school funding cases across the country. Hanushek claimed that Massachusetts’ status as the “education leader” in the country was a result of instituting an exit exam.

Had the judge examined the evidence, however, he would have discovered that Massachusetts’ high school exit exam has increased dropout rates for the state’s most vulnerable students. In fact, as the New America Foundation reported, decades of research on exit exams nationwide show two things: students are not any better off with exit exams, and exit exams have a disproportionately negative impact on the graduation rates of poor students and students of color. That is why the trend among states is to drop exit exams. Exit exams would widen the graduation gap in Connecticut.

Again, had the judge examined the evidence, he would have also learned that the actual major factor in Massachusetts’ improvement was the very measure he refused to order Connecticut to implement: school finance reform that dramatically increased the amount of school funding statewide. No fewer than three studies have shown that increasing school funding significantly improved student achievement in Massachusetts. Recent major studies confirmed those findings nationwide, demonstrating that school finance reform has the most profound positive impact among poor students.

The judge also missed the mark by a wide margin in his ruling on teacher evaluations; which again he insisted be “rational and “verifiable” from his unstudied perspective. Anyone who has been paying attention to education matters the past few years has surely noticed the understandable uproar over the attempt to rate teachers based on student standardized test score “growth.”

Experts across the country confirm, as the American Statistical Association pointed out, that a teacher has a tiny effect on the variance in student test scores: from 1 percent to 14 percent. Thus, it is now widely understood that any system that attempts to rate teachers on student test scores, or the “growth” in student test scores, is about as “rational” and “verifiable” as a coin toss.

Courts that have actually examined the evidence on systems that rate teachers on student test scores have rejected these systems. Last year, a court in New Mexico issued a temporary injunction barring the use of test scores in that state’s teacher evaluation system. And in April, a court in New York ruled that a teacher’s rating based on her students’ “growth” scores — the foundation of New York’s teacher evaluation system — was “arbitrary and capricious;” the opposite of “rational” and “verifiable.”

Yet despite the reams of evidence debunking the use of student growth scores in evaluating teachers, and despite these two court rulings, Judge Moukawsher insisted that rating teachers on student “growth” scores would satisfy his demand that Connecticut’s system for hiring, firing, evaluating and compensating teachers be “rational” and “verifiable.” His ruling defies the evidence and logic.

These and all of the judge’s other rulings are now being appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court by both sides: the state and the CCJEF plaintiffs. One can only hope that that our highest court will steer this case back on course, away from these ill-advised educational policy rulings and toward a proper finding that the state is failing to provide our poorest schools with adequate funding and is consequently failing to safeguard the educational rights of our most vulnerable children.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.  Her column  can be found at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Judge-botched-rulings-on-education-9945947.php

More about the extremely disappointing CCJEF v. Rell ruling by Wendy Lecker

The mass media was quick to fixate on the one “positive” element of the recent CCJEF v. Rell school funding lawsuit ruling, missing the many series problems associated with decision.

In her first piece, Problems with the CCJEF Decision – Will equity without adequacy be enough to help Connecticut’s neediest children?, education advocate and Hearst Media Group columnist Wendy Lecker looked at the school finance portion of the judge’s action.  Here, in Demanding more in elementary schools, she looks at some of the education policy elements of the ruling.

This piece first appeared in the Stamford Advocate.  You can read and comment on the original at:  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Demanding-more-in-elementary-schools-9242568.php

More about the extremely disappointing CCJEF v. Rell ruling by Wendy Lecker

As noted in my previous column, CCJEF trial judge Thomas Moukawsher refused to order the state to ensure adequate resources in schools, though determining constitutional adequacy was his responsibility. By contrast, the judge freely issued sweeping directives regarding educational policy.

The judge issued far-reaching orders involving elementary and high school education and teacher evaluations. He also aired abhorrent views toward children with disabilities, which several commentators already addressed.

This column addresses his orders regarding elementary education. I will address the others in subsequent columns.

Moukawsher observed that the educational disparities in secondary school begin in elementary school. (He actually acknowledged that they begin before elementary school, but declined to rule that preschool is essential.)

Moukawsher’s “fix” for elementary school was to order the state to define elementary education as being “primarily related to developing basic literacy and numeracy skills needed for secondary school.”

Most of us understand that to thrive in secondary school, children must develop skills beyond basic numeracy and literacy. From an early age, children must develop the ability to think critically, creatively and independently.

There is no real division among brain functions — cognitive, social and motor — so they all must be developed in concert. As neuroscientist Adele Diamond observed, “a human being is not just an intellect or just a body … we ignore any of those dimensions at our peril in … educating children.”

However, Moukawsher ruled that elementary school should concern itself with basic literacy and numeracy skills. Moreover, he demanded that this definition have “force,” “substantial consequences” and be “verifiable” — code for high-stakes statewide standardized elementary school exit exams.

The judge’s myopic focus was emphasized by his suggestion for giving the required definition “force.” He declared that the state definition “might gain some heft, for example, if the rest of school stopped for students who leave third grade without basic literacy skills. School for them might be focused solely on acquiring those skills. Eighth-grade testing would have to show they have acquired those skills before they move on to secondary school. This would give the schools four school years to fix the problem for most children.”

Many children who do not score well on standardized tests are poor and experience stress in their lives that inhibits learning. Others are just learning English. Others have disabilities. Any lag in reading does not mean a child cannot think at grade level or beyond. Moreover, many low-income children have limited exposure to the wide variety of experiences their more affluent peers enjoy. Yet Moukawsher’s prescription for “fixing” them is to limit their education to reading instruction. No art, music, physical education, social studies, science, drama, or field trips. This “solution” will leave our neediest children further behind developmentally.

Moukawsher’s proposal not only threatens to hinder development for our neediest children. It is not even an effective way to teach reading.

As Wheelock College’s Diane Levin explains, children cannot learn to read in a vacuum. The more children can make associations between words and their experiences, the better readers they become. Exposure to wide-ranging subjects and activities is part of learning to read. It is especially crucial for disadvantaged children, who may have limited life experiences outside school.

Moreover, learning to read requires engagement. Children must see the value of reading and writing in helping them get better at something that they like to do.

The Kansas Supreme Court understood this concept when it ordered that Kansas must ensure a host of programs as part of a constitutionally adequate education. The court recognized that “modern schools … have sought to aid students whose individual circumstances … diminish their ability to learn. Some examples … are programs providing breakfast or lunch, pre-school or after school programs, all day kindergarten, field trips, or even theater, band, or athletic endeavors, all which broaden one’s base of association such that it may spark inquiry, acceptance, or, otherwise, give purpose to the pursuit of an education.”

What type of education is necessary for Connecticut’s children? Should we merely try pouring words into their heads? Or should we heed what modern science reveals about how children learn and ensure that every child, not matter what her circumstance, has the opportunity to learn basic and complex skills, so that she can develop into a responsible citizen?

Judge Moukawsher opted for the former, constricted view — one that experts know fails to accomplish even his meager goals.

Connecticut must demand better than that if we want to achieve the equal educational opportunities our constitution demands.

 

Breaking News – State Supreme Court says it will review school funding case

From the CT Mirror:

The state Supreme Court will hear an expedited appeal of a lower court’s conclusion that the way the state distributes education aid and oversees local schools is unconstitutional.

Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers accepted petitions by Attorney General George Jepsen and the lawyers for the plaintiffs for a direct review by the Supreme Court of different aspects of the decision by Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher.

For more see:

CTMirror: http://ctmirror.org/2016/09/20/state-supreme-court-says-it-will-review-school-funding-case/

Courant: http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-ccjef-supreme-court-appeal-0920-20160920-story.html

Dan Klau: https://appealinglybrief.com/2016/09/20/supreme-court-grants-petition-to-review-education-ruling/