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.

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/

 

TROUBLED SCHOOLS ON TRIAL: The MUST READ series by the CT Mirror

CT Mirror reporter Jacqueline Rabe has written a MUST READ series of seven stories about the controversies surrounding Connecticut’s public school system.

As her CT Mirror biography notes,

Rabe has won two first prizes from the national Education Writers Association for her work in 2012 – one in beat reporting for her overall education coverage, and the other, with Keith Phaneuf, in investigative reporting on a series of stories revealing questionable monetary and personnel actions taken by the Board of Regents for Higher Education. Before coming to The Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. She has also worked for Congressional Quarterly and the Toledo Free Press. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Jacqueline is in the public policy master’s program at Trinity College.

Here are links to Rabe’s recent series on education in Connecticut.

WHEN POVERTY PERMEATES THE CLASSROOM (Part 1)
http://ctmirror.org/2016/12/07/troubled-schools-on-trial-when-poverty-perme…

THE BROKEN FORMULA FOR STATE SCHOOL AID (Part 2)
http://ctmirror.org/2016/12/08/troubled-schools-on-trial-a-broken-formula-f…

A BUILDING BOOM, PENSIONS LOCK IN BIG COSTS (Part 3)
http://ctmirror.org/2016/12/09/troubled-schools-on-trial-a-building-boom-pe…

WHO’S IN CHARGE? STATE VS. LOCAL CONTROL (Part 4)
http://ctmirror.org/2016/12/12/troubled-schools-on-trial-whos-in-charge-state-vs-local-control/

WHAT DOES A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA PROVE? (Part 5)
http://ctmirror.org/2016/12/13/troubled-schools-on-trial-what-does-a-high-s…

SPECIAL EDUCATION DRIVING COSTS AND CONTROVERSIES (Part 6)
http://ctmirror.org/2016/12/14/troubled-schools-on-trial-special-education-…

WILL A SCATHING COURT DECISION LEAD TO ACTION? (Part 7)
http://ctmirror.org/2016/12/15/troubled-schools-on-trial-will-a-scathing-co…

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.”

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/