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

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

Why an Education Adequacy Cost Study for Connecticut?

For too long Connecticut has developed education funding policy backwards and without hard data.  For too long our State has let budget politics, special interests and perceived fiscal “realities” determine how much to spend on K-12 public education.  State government time and time again has backed into an education funding amount and then corrupted the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula and other funding programs to deliver a target spending amount.  This has been the harsh reality since the inception of the ECS grant. Since 2013 we have not even maintained the fiction of using the ECS formula.

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

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

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

An Education Adequacy Cost Study Must Be Done With Integrity

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Let’s reject the mistakes of the past.

An education adequacy cost study is the necessary first step toward developing a rational, effective and constitutional education funding and finance system that provides a truly adequate and equitable educational opportunity to every K-12 public school student in Connecticut.

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.

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/