Do education reform right — with an education adequacy cost study (By Jim Finley, CCJEF)

Despite all the fiscal and other challenges paralyzing Connecticut, there is an opportunity in the 2017 legislative session to take the first real step toward comprehensive, rational and constitutional education funding reform.  That first step is authorizing an education adequacy cost study be conducted in our state as called for in Substitute House Bill 7270 (File 511, House Calendar 351).

Connecticut’s shame is to tolerate among the most economically and racially segregated school districts in the nation.  As pointed out in painful clarity by the plaintiffs in the historic CCJEF v. Rell case now under appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court, too many of our public school students are denied their state constitutional right to an adequate and equitable education.

Connecticut is failing our poor, special need and minority students.  The achievement gap between poor and minority students and other students in our state is among the worst in the country.  The socioeconomic consequences of such unconstitutional indifference are not only dire for the students affected but for our state as a whole.

Our education finance system is broken and needs to be fixed.  Everyone agrees on this.  But there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

Unfortunately, the wrong way is on full display in the 2017 legislative session.  There are currently at least four proposals to change the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant and special education funding, some public and some not, scurrying around the Capitol.  All repeat the mistakes of the past.

However well-intentioned they may be, all these proposals fail a fundamental test:  The proposals are not informed by up-to-date hard data on what it actually costs to provide an adequate and equitable educational opportunity across the diverse student-need spectrum in Connecticut.  Only an education adequacy cost study can provide such real-world data.  The proposals are a political and non-empirical response to the unconstitutional inequities that exist in our education finance system.  As has been done so many times over the last 40 years, these proposals are rush-to-judgment fixes masquerading as comprehensive reform.  None of these proposals will resolve the adequacy and equity constitutional issues raised in CCJEF v. Rell.

Education adequacy cost studies are the gold-standard prerequisite for education finance reform.  They have been performed with great success in over 30 other states to help effectuate education reforms.  The results of an education cost study formed the basis of education funding reform in Maryland that has resulted in a significant closing of their achievement gap.

Gov. Dannel Malloy’s 2013 Task Force to Study State Education Funding recommended that a cost study be undertaken.  A 1991 cost study in Massachusetts laid the groundwork for their Education Reform Act of 1993.  This act brought nationally-recognized reforms that catapulted Massachusetts’ student achievement to first in the nation.

An education adequacy cost study is estimated to cost $250,000, less than 1/10,000 of what our state currently spends on primary and secondary education.  It is a great investment in Connecticut’s future and a small price to pay to get the real-world data needed by policymakers to develop a rational and constitutional education funding formula that truly ensures adequate and equitable educational opportunities for all public school students.

Let’s not repeat the policy development mistakes of the past.  Let’s commission an education adequacy cost study so that we get education funding reform right.  Our public school students deserve nothing less.

First published in the CTMirror, you can read and comment on Jim Finley’s commentary piece at: https://ctviewpoints.org/2017/05/16/lets-do-education-reform-the-right-way-with-an-education-adequacy-cost-study/

A CT School Adequacy Study will inform a rational and constitutional education finance program

The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education (CCJEF) explains why the Connecticut General Assembly should approve legislation requiring a CT School Adequacy Study rather than adopt a faulty school funding formula that fails to adequately fund Connecticut’s public schools and diverts even more scarce resources to Connecticut’s unaccountable charter school industry.

Q & A:  THE NEED FOR AN ADEQUACY COST STUDY TO INFORM RATIONAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL EDUCATION FINANCE REFORM

  1.  What is the difference between the proposal supported by CCJEF (Subst. H.B. 7270, File 511) and the Sen. Duff proposal (to be amended to S.B. 2)?

CCJEF proposes an adequacy cost study, which has been done in over 30 other states, to help determine the amount of funding needed to educate different groups of students depending on their needs. S.B. 2 proposes a dramatic revision of the entire funding system which shifts funds away from traditional public neighborhood schools, reduces the “foundation” amount now allocated for each student and makes unsupported guesses at funding levels for poverty students, ELL students and others without first knowing the extent of student needs and how much is required to meet them across districts. S.B. 2 may include some improvements over the status quo but this radical change in education funding was drafted in the dark and has never been subjected to the light of a public hearing or given sufficient scrutiny.

2. Does the Duff proposal responds to the inadequacies defined by the CCJEF court?

No. Because the proposal is not based on empirical data on how much it actually costs to adequately and equitably educate students across Connecticut, the proposal is irrational. The trial court held that “Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty to provide adequate public school opportunities because it has no rational, substantial and verifiable plan to distribute money for education aid and school construction.” The judge said, “[i]f the legislature can skip around changing [education funding] formulas every year, it invites a new lawsuit every year.” S.B. 2 repeats the mistakes of the past. It is another formula patched together for political and budgetary reasons without sufficient research about the diversity of student needs and the actual costs of an adequate education.

  1. How would S.B. 2 impact students attending magnet schools in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, and Norwalk?

    S.B. 2 would decimate magnet schools across Connecticut because it would reduce magnet school funding by approximately $3,500 per student (based on a recent circulated version of the bill) while shifting those funds to increase payments to charter schools. Magnet schools would be unable to afford their supplemental features, such as classroom aides or special academic themes, which make them attractive options for voluntary desegregation initiatives in Connecticut. Under the proposal, students who leave for magnet schools would take funding away from the “sender” traditional neighborhood schools. At the same time, the network of regional magnet schools would lose approximately $3,569 per student.

    4. Does S.B. 2 shift taxpayer funds from traditional neighborhood schools to charter schools?

    Yes. Without the benefit of any public hearing, S.B. 2 would overturn decades of giving priority to funding of neighborhood public schools by adopting the “money follows the child” concept which shifts taxpayer money away from traditional public schools to charter schools without requiring these charter schools to meet the same accountability standards as other public schools. The inevitable long-term result may well be the slow defunding of many public school districts.

    5. Is a cost study as proposed by CCJEF a well-recognized tool used nationally in cases involving education adequacy brought before courts?

    Yes. Cost studies are not a new idea. In fact they are the gold standard prerequisite in education finance reform efforts. They have been performed in more than 30 states to effectuate education reforms with great success. For instance, the Maryland legislature enacted a bipartisan education funding system based on data and recommendations provided by a cost study. Additional funding was phased in over six years and aimed at closing the achievement gap. In the years that followed, Maryland’s high-need children performed significantly better on all metrics of evaluation than they had in the past. Likewise, in Massachusetts, a 1991 study ultimately formed the groundwork for the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993. This act brought nationally-recognized reforms that catapulted Massachusetts’ student achievement to first in the nation.

    6. What is the budgetary cost of an adequacy cost study?

    The adequacy cost study is estimated to cost $250,000, less than one-in-ten-thousandths of what our state currently spends on primary and secondary education each year. It is a small price to pay to get the real-world data needed by policymakers to develop a rational education funding formula that ensures adequate and equitable educational opportunities for all public school students.

    7. How long would a cost study take?

    A cost study would take about 12 months or less to complete. Under Subst. H.B. 7270, the Department of Education would issue a request for proposals 30 days after passage of the act. The selected entity conducting the cost study would then file an interim report not later than December 14, 2017 and a final report not later than February 14, 2018.

    8. Could the CCJEF proposal be incorporated into the Duff proposal?

    Yes. Elements of S.B. 2, such as the shift in measuring local ability to pay equally between property wealth and income wealth as well as changes in student need factors, could be adopted as the beginning of a transitional financing system while the adequacy cost study is being performed.

    9. Has anyone proposed conducting a cost study in the past?

    Yes. Back in 2013, Gov. Malloy’s Task Force to Study State Education Funding recommended that “a comprehensive cost study regarding the demographic, economic and education cost factors … should be considered in determining an appropriate foundation level for the cost of education.”  Indeed, portioning out funding for each district without this knowledge is fiscally irresponsible and puts our children at risk.

  2. Has the General Assembly taken any action on developing a cost study?

    Yes. The Education Committee reported out Subst. H.B. 7270, File 511 which proposes a comprehensive “adequacy study of public school funding” to be completed in the next 12 months. This adequacy cost study is desperately needed to provide the hard, real-world data necessary to get education finance reform done right in Connecticut.

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

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.

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

A primer about Connecticut School Funding by Wendy Lecker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Principles for Connecticut School Funding

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

Resources Necessary for an Adequate Education

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

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

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

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

State Funding Formula:

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

Foundation Amount:

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

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

Student Need:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regional Cost of Education

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

State/Local Share: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connecticut’s historic school funding trial finally begins this week

As Connecticut education advocate and columnist, Wendy Lecker, reports in her latest commentary piece in the Stamford Advocate, Connecticut’s children finally get day in court.

Of the many disappointments that have arisen since Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman were sworn in to office in January 2011, few, if any, is greater than their immoral efforts to dismiss, derail and delay what may be the most important Connecticut court case in our lifetime – the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (“CCJEF”) v. Rell School Funding Lawsuit.

The truth is that Connecticut’s school funding formula is not only illegal, it is unconstitutional. 

Inadequate funding is robbing Connecticut’s public schoolchildren of their constitutional right to a quality education, while placing an unfair burden on Connecticut’s local property taxpayers.

A new funding formula is needed.  But Connecticut politicians lack the will to adopt one, so the responsibility to act has fallen on the courts.

Despite having been supporters of the lawsuits prior to taking office, Malloy, Wyman and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen have wasted five years and massive amounts of taxpayer funds trying to stop Connecticut’s judicial branch from even hearing the critically important court case.

As mayor of Stamford, Dan Malloy was actually one of the original sponsors and plaintiffs of the CCJEF V. Rell School Funding lawsuit.

Running for office in 2010, Dan Malloy bragged about his role in pushing the CCJEF lawsuit, telling the Hartford Courant on March 23, 2010;

“I think in the long run it is very important to the state of Connecticut,” said Malloy, who was among the group that launched the coalition that brought the lawsuit. “I began these efforts years ago because I firmly believed that the state was not honoring its constitutional requirement and the funding formula for education in poor and urban communities was not fair to those communities.”

Nancy Wyman and George Jepsen were also strong advocates for addressing Connecticut’s unconstitutional school funding system.

And then, when they were finally in a position to make a real difference, these three “leaders” turned their backs on Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers, schools and taxpayers.

While the Malloy, Wyman and Jepsen were able to delay the day of reckoning, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (“CCJEF”) v. Rell school funding lawsuit is finally set to begin on January 12, 2016 in a Hartford courtroom.

Wendy Lecker explains;

On Jan. 12, Connecticut’s school funding trial, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (“CCJEF”) v. Rell, will finally begin. The plaintiffs include a statewide coalition of parents, municipalities, local boards of education, and organizations, and individual parents in districts across the state. They began the case in 2005. Since then, the state has waged a costly, failed crusade to keep the plaintiffs from having their day in court.

The plaintiffs claim that the state’s flawed school funding system provides inadequate resources to schools, thereby depriving Connecticut’s public school children of their rights under the Education Article of Connecticut’s constitution.

Under Connecticut’s Constitution, the state is responsible for providing children with a “suitable” public education. In 2010, when Connecticut’s Supreme Court denied the state’s first attempt to dismiss the case, it defined a “suitable” education as one that enables graduates to participate in democratic institutions, attain productive employment, or progress to higher education. The court ruled that the state must provide sufficient resources to enable students to obtain this level of education.

The CCJEF plaintiffs contend that for children to have a constitutionally “suitable” education, schools must have certain essential resources:

  • high quality preschool;
  • appropriate class size;
  • programs and services for at-risk students;
  • high quality administrators and teachers;
  • modern and adequate library facilities;
  • modern technology and appropriate instruction;
  • an adequate number of hours of instruction;
  • a rigorous curriculum with a wide breadth of courses;
  • modern and appropriate textbooks;
  • a healthy, safe, well-maintained school environment conducive to learning;
  • adequate special needs services;
  • appropriate career and academic counseling; and
  • suitably run extra-curricular activities

This list of essential resources is consistent with what courts across the nation deem necessary for a constitutionally adequate education.

In the state’s last attempt to dismiss the case, in 2013, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration claimed that its 2012 reforms, including yearly common core standardized testing of students, evaluating teachers by students’ standardized test scores and a system of ranking, shaming and punishing districts with low test scores, would solve all the state’s education woes.

This failed tactic was attempted by states in other school funding cases, such as Kansas. The Kansas court declared that relying on similar unproven reforms rather than adequate funding was “experimenting with our children (who) have no recourse from a failure of the experiment.”

The CCJEF court ruled that there is no evidence that Malloy’s reforms would redress the constitutional inadequacies and ordered that the state prove it at trial.

The state has known all along that the plaintiffs are right — that schools need the essential resources the CCJEF plaintiffs demand. In 2005, Connecticut’s top education official, Commissioner Betty Sternberg, wrote to then-Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and told her so.

In the letter, Commissioner Sternberg requested permission to continue testing children only in grades 4,6, 8 and 10. She stated that adding standardized tests in the other grades “will cost millions of dollars and will tell us nothing that we do not already know about our students’ achievement and what we must do to improve it.”

Sternberg maintained that high-needs schools needed support to improve and set forth proven strategies to improve education, including:

  • High quality preschool;
  • School based health centers/family resource centers;
  • Small class size;
  • Adequate support staff, such as nurses, social workers, psychologists, reading specialists and guidance counselors;
  • Incentives to retain experienced teachers;
  • Adequate technology, curriculum, supplies and professional development;
  • Adequate learning time;
  • Adequate space for learning.

In 2005, Connecticut’s top education official enumerated almost the exact same list of resources that the CCJEF plaintiffs seek. Moreover, Commissioner Sternberg maintained that these resources “are not a buffet,” but rather a “full-course meal.” “If we want to see significant improvement in student achievement, all of these areas should move ahead in concert,” she wrote.

Despite this admission by the state that schools need these essential resources, the state did nothing over the past 10 years to try to ensure every Connecticut school be properly equipped. Rather, the state chose to waste millions of taxpayer dollars in a futile attempt to keep the facts about its failure to fund schools from coming out in court. During that time, a generation of Connecticut children passed through the educational system deprived of basic educational resources they needed to succeed in school and life.

The governor, legislature and state education officials knowingly and repeatedly disregarded their duty to our children. One hopes that when the facts finally emerge, the court will grant our children the justice Connecticut politicians consistently denied them.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s column which first appeared in the Stamford Advocate at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Connecticut-s-children-finally-6745644.php

Jepsen/Malloy move to destroy most important school funding lawsuit in modern times

Next Monday, on September 16, 2013, Attorney General George Jepsen, with the help and support of Governor Dannel Malloy, will go before a Connecticut Superior Court judge in what could be termed a despicable attempt to dismiss the most important school finance lawsuit in nearly five decades.  In fact, the case, CCJEF v. Rell, may well be the most important school finance lawsuit in Connecticut history.

Once upon a time, when Governor Dannel Malloy was Mayor Dan Malloy of Stamford, he not only supported the CCJEF v. Rell lawsuit but was an original plaintiff in the historic battle to force the State of Connecticut to fulfill its constitutional obligation to the children of Connecticut.

As a candidate for governor, Malloy repeatedly proclaimed that he would implement a solution to Connecticut’s school finance crisis and end the need for the CCJEF v. Rell case.

But now with Malloy’s support, Connecticut’s attorney general is trying to dismiss this important case altogether.

Long before Malloy became governor, before governors Rell, Rowland, Weicker, O’Neill and Grasso, there was the famous Connecticut lawsuit of Horton v. Meskill, a case designed to force Governor Meskill and the Connecticut General Assembly to adopt a fair school financing system.  In 1977, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled, “that the right to education in Connecticut is so basic and fundamental that any intrusion on the right must be strictly scrutinized.” The Court said that “public school students are entitled to equal enjoyment of the right to education, and a system of school financing that relied on local property tax revenues without regard to disparities in town wealth and that lacked significant equalizing state support was unconstitutional. It could not pass the test of strict judicial scrutiny.”

The court ordered the executive and legislative branches to develop a new school funding system.

Now, nearly four decades later, Connecticut still doesn’t have a fair and equitable school financing system.

But the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, a statewide coalition of municipalities, local boards of education, education associations, unions, pro-education advocacy organizations, parents, public schoolchildren and taxpayers, are working to change that once and for all.

Founded in 2004, the coalition filed a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut in 2005.  That suit is called CCJEF v. Rell and it charges that Connecticut has failed to “adequately and equitably fund the public schools in accordance with its constitutional obligation.”

In March of 2010, the Connecticut Supreme Court took up CCJEF V. Rell and ruled all public school students in Connecticut have the constitutional right to an effective and meaningful (quality, adequate) education and CCJEF’s claim for a new public financing system was appropriate.

The Connecticut Supreme Court sent the case back to the Superior Court for a full trial on the merits and the trail is scheduled for July 2014.

But whether Governor Malloy and Attorney General Jepsen have reversed themselves and no longer believe in the constitutional right of Connecticut’s children or are simply trying to push the case past the next gubernatorial election, the duo have asked the Connecticut court to dismiss the case entirely.

Their move is an insult to every student, parent, teacher and taxpayer in the state of Connecticut.

It is hard to conceive that Jepsen and Malloy, two long-time Democrats, would be wasting time and scarce taxpayer resources in an attempt to dismiss this case.

The children of Connecticut deserve better.

More information on CCJEF go to:   http://ccjef.org/