Problems with the CCJEF Decision – Will equity without adequacy be enough to help Connecticut’s neediest children? (By Wendy Lecker)

Wendy Lecker, an education advocate, legal expert and Stamford Advocate columnist produces a MUST READ analysis about some of the extremely serious problems associated with the Judge’s recent ruling in the CCJEF v. Rell school funding case.  The article first appeared in the Stamford Advocate and other Hearst newspapers.  You can read and comment on this critically important piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Ruling-raises-hope-for-poorest-9212622.php

Wendy Lecker writes;

On Sept. 7, Judge Thomas Moukawsher issued his post-trial decision in Connecticut’s school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell. His sweeping decision covered funding, which I will address here, and education policy, which I will address in my next column.

On the funding front, the outcome was mixed. While the judge did declare Connecticut’s system of distributing school aid unconstitutional, he found that the state was providing adequate funding. In doing so, he redefined constitutional adequacy and ignored the plaintiffs’ overwhelming evidence of resource deficiencies in the CCJEF districts.

At trial, the CCJEF plaintiffs put forth overwhelming evidence of severe resource deficiencies of inputs such as: academic and social intervention for at-risk students and students with special needs; guidance counselors, social workers, nurses, services for English Language Learners, music art and other subjects; and reasonable class size.

Judge Moukawsher’s charge was to examine the resources in the districts at issue in the case and determine whether those resources were so inadequate as to violate Connecticut’s constitution.

However, nowhere in the opinion does the judge systematically look the actual resources present or absent in each district.

Rather, the judge focused only on three types of resources: facilities, instrumentalities of learning, and teachers. He declared that since, in his view, the state provides the “bare minimum,” in these three areas, the plaintiffs did not prove that state funding is constitutionally inadequate.

Moukawsher claimed to base his ruling on the 2010 Connecticut Supreme Court plurality decision allowing the CCJEF case to proceed to trial. He claimed to rely specifically on Justice Richard Palmer’s concurring opinion, which is seen as the controlling opinion.

Moukawsher stated that Palmer limited his focus to those three narrow resources. This is untrue. Palmer acknowledged a much wider range of potential resource deficits, including class size, language instruction, technology, intervention for at-risk students, and a safe and secure learning environment.

Judge Moukawsher’s decision ignored the wide range of essential educational resources absent in the CCJEF districts. In fact, the judge actually claimed that intervention for at-risk children was an “extra.”

As a result, his ruling does an injustice to the children suffering in those districts.

Moukawsher also attempted to claim Palmer’s definition of a “minimally adequate” education was narrower than the plurality opinion, and that it required only the “bare minimum” of resources.

However, Palmer actually declared that “I perceive no difference between an educational opportunity that is minimally adequate and an educational opportunity that the plurality characterizes as ‘soundly basic.’”

Moukawsher created a bare-bones definition of constitutional adequacy that the Connecticut Supreme Court clearly did not envision.

The one ray of light in this funding decision is Moukawsher’s finding that the state’s system for distributing school aid is unconstitutional. He ruled that “(b)eyond a reasonable doubt, Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty to provide adequate public school opportunities because it has no rational, substantial and verifiable plan to distribute money for education aid and school construction.”

To illustrate Connecticut’s irrational system, Moukawsher cited the legislature’s decision last session to cut school aid for poor districts while providing more aid for wealthy districts. Here, the judge finally acknowledged the severe resource deficits caused by these cuts: of administrators, guidance counselors, kindergarten and special education paraprofessionals, music and athletics, a shortened school year and classes of “29 children per room — rooms where teachers might have a class with one third requiring special education, many of them speaking limited English, and almost all of them working considerably below grade level.”

The judge declared that a system that “allows rich towns to raid money desperately needed by poor towns makes a mockery of the state’s constitutional duty.”

The judge gave Connecticut six months to create a new funding system that applies “educationally-based principles to allocate funds in light of the special circumstances of the state’s poorest communities.”

The opportunity to craft a new funding system no doubt has the charter lobby champing at the bit to snatch some of that funding intended for Connecticut’s poorest districts. However, the court’s ruling aims to stem the state’s penchant for draining funds from impoverished public school districts. Following the court’s logic, a funding scheme that would allow school aid to flow to a parallel system of privately managed charter schools while leaving poor districts in dire circumstances can also be seen as unconstitutionally irrational.

While not ideal, the CCJEF decision highlights that the needs of students in our poorest districts, not political influence, should drive education funding in Connecticut.

Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) vs Malloy (and Rell)

Eleven years ago, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) brought a suit against the state of Connecticut charging that the state’s school funding formula had been so corrupted that it violated Connecticut’s Constitution by failing to provide cities and towns with sufficient state aid to ensure that every child received a proper public education.

At the time, Dannel Malloy was the Mayor of Stamford and signed onto to lawsuit as a plaintiff, correctly pointing out that students in his community and across the state could not get a proper education as a result of Connecticut’s warped school funding program.

As a candidate for governor Malloy supported the suit and recognized that it was the single most important mechanism for transforming Connecticut’s school funding formula into something that adequately funded schools and treated local property taxpayers more fairly.

But upon being elected governor, Malloy switched his position 180 degrees and has spent the last seven years trying to prevent the critically important lawsuit from coming to trial.  When that strategy failed, he wasted precious public dollars, as has Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, working to convince the judicial system that Connecticut’s unfair school funding system is just fine.

For the last five months, a Connecticut judge has been taking testimony on the case.  Yesterday the legal team representing students, parents, teachers and public schools gave their closing arguments.  Today, the state will make their pitch about why the courts should turn their backs on Connecticut’s school funding crisis, and leave the ECS formula in place.

In a story wrapping up the trial, the CT Mirror wrote;

This question over whether the case, which was filed nearly 11 years ago, should move forward is not a new one. The state’s attorney general has been asking the court for years to strip CCJEF of its standing to sue.

But the attorney representing the plaintiffs rejected those calls Monday.

“I think that it is absolutely undisputed that we have at least one set of plaintiffs that have standing in this case…That ends the discussion,” Joseph Moodhe, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told the judge. He called the debate over standing a “red herring” aimed at avoiding a decision on the quality of the education being offered to students.

As for the fundamental issues of the case, the CT Mirror explained:

What’s an adequate education?

A divided Connecticut Supreme Court six and a half years ago ruled that the state is responsible for ensuring that public schools are of a certain quality, but left it up to a lower court to determine what that standard is and whether it is being met.

“Where do you set the standard? I think that is what has to be considered,” Moukawsher said Monday.

The plaintiffs argued Monday an adequate education is one that prepares students with the opportunity to attend college when they graduate high school.

“Our case is about not having those opportunities because the resources are not there for those children,” said Moodhe. “Ultimately, it comes down to whether the district is getting the appropriate resources to provide for what’s needed to educate their children.”

Throughout the trial, the coalition chose six school districts to highlight problems – Bridgeport, Danbury, East Hartford, New Britain, New London and Windham. All enroll high concentrations of students from low-income families.

“The larger issue is what happens in districts that have large proportions of impoverished adults and students and how that particular dynamic impacts the ability of districts to provide an education to the students they are there to serve,” said Moodhe. “I think the evidence is quite clear that all of these townships are financially distressed; that most of the evidence has indicated that the superintendents have fought to get additional funding and pretty much without exception they have been disappointed… Because these towns are populated by poorer populations, they really don’t have the income in order to finance their schools.”

During his closing arguments, Moodhe asserted that high-poverty districts are not meeting even a minimum threshold for education quality because they cannot hire and retain talented staff.

“Poverty district students are more likely to be taught by less experienced new teachers,” said Moodhe. “Our districts are disadvantaged by districts’ inability to field the best teachers.”

Difficult working conditions, teachers and principals testified throughout the trial, include larger class sizes and high concentrations of high-need students. Educators say they lose waves of their best teachers each year, have trouble hiring replacements, and have too few teachers and other support staff to keep their students from falling further behind.

“They have less compensation and less enviable working conditions,” said Moodhe. “The evidence is quite clear that the teacher situation is a problem.”

But attorneys representing the state have countered that the schools in these districts are overwhelmingly filled with excellent teachers — as evidenced by annual evaluation ratings — and that the state has spent millions in recent years so that students have the staff support they need.

The lengthy article went on to note:

An equal education for all?

There’s no question that the state’s wealthiest communities are spending much more educating their students.

But should the state be responsible for equalizing that disparity?

Neither side is arguing that should happen.

Rather, those suing the state want a funding system that recognizes the extra cost to catch high-need students up with their peers.

While the states primary school funding grant provides 30 percent more money for children from low-income families, experts who testified for the plaintiffs during the trial testified that it costs two to three times as much to educate poor children who often show up for school with major deficiencies.

The state directs the vast majority of its education funding to the poorest and lowest-achieving communities, but the plaintiffs argue it clearly hasn’t been enough to make up for the significant needs these districts face.

Their proof: test results that show about half the students from these districts are multiple grade levels behind in reading and math.

“What you really have to do is give somebody the opportunity to get that adequate education. They may not get there. But you have to give them the tools and the resources,” he said.

When should the court step in?

The State Constitution requires that, “There shall always be free public elementary and secondary schools in the state. The General Assembly shall implement this principle by appropriate legislation.”

Missing is language clarifying what level of education is required.

Three of the seven justices on the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the constitution entitles every school-aged child to a “an education suitable to give them the opportunity to be responsible citizens able to participate fully in democratic institutions, such as jury service and voting, and to prepare them to progress to institutions of higher education, or to attain productive employment and otherwise to contribute to the state’s economy.”

A fourth justice wrote a concurring opinion, agreeing that the constitution guarantees a certain level of educational quality but setting a much lower threshold for what that standard would be.

“The right established under [the constitution] requires only that the legislature establish and maintain a minimally adequate system of free public schools,” Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote. “Consequently, in my view, the plaintiffs will not be able to prevail on their claims unless they are able to establish that what the state has done to discharge its obligations under [the constitution] is so lacking as to be unreasonable by any fair or objective standard.”

In the absence of a clear majority mandate from the high court on what quality threshold the state must meet, Judge Moukawsher on multiple occasions has said he worries about overstepping the court’s proper role.

“I think you should understand by now that I have concerns about the fitness of the court to set a level of education spending beyond a bare minimum,” he told the attorneys Monday.

That concern stems from court decisions seemingly piling up that force the state legislature to spend money on particular priorities. On Monday, the judge specifically pointed out the courts’ involvement in ordering the state to desegregate Hartford schools and to take better care of abused and neglected children in the custody of the state’s child welfare agency.

“If I order so many billions to go to education as a whole, are there going to be billions left to desegregate Hartford Public Schools? So too with respect to the Department of Children and Families,” Moukowsher said. “The court is telling [the legislature] ‘spend this, spend that.’ How do courts do that in a vacuum? How can a court say, ‘Here’s what you’re going to spend’ without even considering that there are other constitutional rights that you impinge on when doing that. And there are a lot more, the mentally ill, prisoners, all of them have constitutional rights. When you order spending over here, you have to recognize that you’re affecting the spending over there.

“It means we have a big problem in courts doing this sort of stuff,” said Moukawsher, a former state legislator who represented Groton. “As much as you might say that courts have done it, I am not willing to do it unless I can believe there’s a way to do it rationally and fairly and a way that does not undermine the whole constitutional structure of the state by having the judiciary interfering so much with the job of the legislature that it cripples the legislature’s ability to do policy decisions.”

But, he acknowledged, there has to be some minimal standard that the court holds the legislature and governor to, otherwise, “You would have an empty constitution.”

Attorneys for the state have been arguing for judicial restraint in this case, but those suing the state maintain that a constitutional right should not be blunted by other obligations the state also must meet.

“The right to an adequate education is an affirmative constitutional obligation,” said Moodhe. “There is a challenge to the legislature for inaction… The legislature should not be given wide deference to meet that affirmative obligation.”

And the CT Mirror summarized the case, asking, “What’s the remedy?”

If the judge determines that the state is not providing students with the education the constitution requires, it could then be up to him to fashion a remedy.

If that’s necessary, the state says it would want him to order the legislature to make this its top priority and fix the problem, as was done in previous education funding and segregation lawsuits.

But the coalition suing the state says the courts should oversee a remedy that directs more money to needy schools.

No matter what Moukawsher decides, both sides have said they will appeal to the state Supreme Court for a final determination.

You can read and comment on the full CT Mirror article at: http://ctmirror.org/2016/08/08/ct-school-funding-on-trial-5-key-questions-facing-the-judge/

Connecticut’s historic school funding formula trial finally begins next week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy Lecker explains;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We lose Dr. Dianne Kaplan deVries, A True Public Education Hero

Dr. Dianne Kaplan deVries, a dear friend and extraordinarily powerful champion for Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and public schools died on Sunday after a battle with cancer.

Although her legacy is yet to be fully written and those who will benefit the most from her incredible work may never know her name, as the leading force behind the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF], Dianne has been and will remain the most vital force behind the historic effort to ensure that Connecticut’s public schools are adequately and fairly funded and that every Connecticut child is provided with the education, knowledge and skills they need to live more fulfilling lives.

J.R.R. Tolkien whose work is categorized as fiction rather than non-fiction, and therefore cast aside by the Common Core and Common Cores testing enthusiasts wisely noted that,

“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit” – J.R.R. Tolkien

With that knowledge and in that light there are few who have been as courageous and dedicated as Diane Kaplan deVries and fewer still whose lifetime of work has been as important to the future of our children.

Incredible in life, perhaps the most disturbing truth of all about Diane Kaplan Devries’ work is the uncomfortable fact that so many elected officials, often led by so-called Democrats, immorally and unethically sought to throw up barriers to stop Diane’s critical effort to make sure that Connecticut’s children got the education they needed, while ensuring that Connecticut’s middle income property taxpayers were treated more fairly.

It was a topic that many education advocates including Wendy Lecker and I wrote about often.  To fully understand the meaning of losing Diane Kaplan DeVries and the way in which some worked so hard to undermined her efforts, I respectfully request that you click on the links and read some of the following articles;

Jepsen/Malloy Continue to Squander the Opportunity of a Lifetime; (2/7/2012)

It’s only the most important school funding case in our lives – Malloy supported it/Now he opposes it (by Wendy Lecker) (3/23/13)

The Dan to Dannel transformation on the most important education lawsuit in Connecticut history (4/5/2013)

The CCJEF v. Rell School Funding Case: The incredible transformation of Malloy and Jepsen (9/16/2013)

Malloy can tell it to the judge (By Wendy Lecker) (12/14/2013)

Whatever you do, don’t mention school funding and the school funding lawsuit! (1/15/2014)

NEWS FLASH: Kids win, Malloy/Jepsen lose as judge rules school funding trial to begin this summer (1/16/2014)

As CCJEF (www.ccjef.org) reported in the press released that they issued last Monday night,

For the past 17 years Dianne has been the leading champion in the battle to force long-needed school finance reform here in Connecticut. Here dedication to overturning Connecticut’s unconstitutional school funding formula began with the case of Johnson V. Rowland which lasted from 1998 to 2003.

When that case was dropped, Diane built a much larger statewide coalition that led to the filing of the CCJEF V. Rell lawsuit.  In 2010, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that “under the education clause of the state constitution, public school children are entitled not just to a free and equal education but also to an adequate (quality) education, and the state must pay for it.”  Although the court’s determination remains unfulfilled five years later, the finding was the turning point in how Connecticut will fund its schools.

While Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy was one of the original plaintiffs in the case, upon being sworn in as Governor Dannel Malloy, the self-described education proponent completely reversed his position and has spent that last five years wasting precious time and taxpayer funds in his concerted effort o delay, derail and destroy what is probably the most important Connecticut legal case in our lifetimes.

But despite Malloy’s effort and that of his administration and other key Democrats, the CCJEF v. Rell will come to trial in January 2015 in Hartford Superior Court.

In the CCJEF press release, Herbert C. Rosenthal, the CCJEF President said,

 “Dianne Kaplan deVries was a tireless advocate for the rights of all Connecticut public schoolchildren — regardless of economic background, race or town of residence — to receive the quality education our state constitution promises and requires.  The passion, intelligence and commitment that Dianne brought to educational equity and adequacy is unsurpassed.  Our friend and colleague will be sorely missed. In this sad time, all of us in CCJEF rededicate ourselves to ensuring that her dream of equal educational opportunity is realized.”

And CCJEF consultant and fellow education advocate James J. Finley added,

“Dr. Dianne Kaplan deVries will be in the forefront when the history of equal educational opportunity in Connecticut is written.  At great personal sacrifice, Dianne dedicated over 17 years of her life to righting the wrongs of our state’s PK-12 education finance system.  It is because of her singular and indefatigable efforts that the work of CCJEF will continue.”

Additional media reports on losing Diane can be found in the following recent news stories.

CT Newsjunkie – School Funding Advocate Dianne Kaplan deVries Dies of Cancer

Hartford Courant – Education Activists Say Director’s Death Won’t Stop Funding Lawsuit

CT Mirror – Kaplan deVries, leader of school-funding coalition, dies

Hello? It’s the 2nd week of August…where is the State’s Alliance District Funding?

Although the amount of money was relatively small, Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly made a big deal this year trying to persuade towns, schools, teachers, parents and the general public that they were increasing funding for Connecticut’s under-funded public schools.

While about $50 million was added to Connecticut’s Education Cost Sharing Formula for distribution to the state’s local public schools, the vast majority of those funds were targeted to a select group of the 30 poorest towns that are called “Alliance Districts” under Malloy’s education reform initiative.  These are the towns with the greatest poverty and have the largest number of students who face language barriers or need special education services.

But there was a huge catch.  Rather than give the towns flexibility to spend the money where it was needed most, in order for Alliance Districts to receive their funds, they were required to submit detailed “Year 2 Alliance District Plans” by Friday, June 28, at 5 p.m.

The promise was that the State Department of Education would quickly review those plans and release the funds so that towns could ramp-up their programs in time for the beginning of the school year.

But here we are, five weeks later, the new school year begins in just weeks and towns have not heard whether or when they will get any of the promised new money.

Without the funds, people can’t be hired, programs can’t be started and children won’t be getting the additional academic services they need.

The fundamental problem is that Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, has decimated the capabilities of the State Department of Education and has turned over much of the day to day operation of the agency to high-priced consultants who don’t know Connecticut, don’t have the expertise to do the jobs they’ve been assigned and are sucking scarce taxpayer dollars away from vital services.

Just this spring Stefan Pryor and his inner circle of advisors let go seven key experts in the State Department of Education who were helping Alliance Districts to develop and implement effective programs to improve academic performance.  Then, to make matters even worse, Pryor transferred the three key people who worked on improving English as a Second Language programs, provided technical support for towns so that they could do a better job developing culturally appropriate programing and also removed the staff expert in-charge of developing programs to reduce bullying and improve school climate.

Instead of relying on the dedicated, Connecticut based experts; Pryor hired an out-of-state company for nearly a million dollars.  That company, in turn, sent in five people with virtually no educational experience what-so-ever.

Now, with Year 2 Alliance District plans filed, the chickens are coming home to roost.

Thirty plans need to be reviewed and approved before the towns can get the money they were promised but Commissioner Pryor is either unwilling or unable to get the job done in a timely, efficient and effective way.

Left twisting in the wind —- the students, teachers and taxpayers of Ansonia, Bloomfield, Bridgeport, Bristol, Danbury, Derby, East Hartford, East Haven, East Windsor, Hamden, Hartford, Killingly, Manchester, Meriden, Middletown, Naugatuck, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Norwalk, Norwich, Putnam, Stamford, Vernon, Waterbury, West Haven, Winchester, Windham, Windsor and Windsor Locks.

While Pryor’s operation has put together “teams” to review the plans, the majority of team members lack the experience necessary to get the job done right.

Although a few remaining Department of Education professional staff have been assigned to help with the review process, the bulk of the work is being done by the out-of-state consultants from Mass Insight.

One Mass Insight consultant’s real world experience was working with a major charter school chain and another worked for the corporate funded reform organization called New Visions for Public Schools.  A third worked for yet another corporate funded education reform entity called BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life.)  None of them have any experience working in Connecticut.

Of course, there is also the Mass Insight “project manager” whose experience was working in a non-classroom, management position for Commissioner Pryor’s charter school management company, Achievement First. Inc.  This is not the first consultant to have direct ties to the company Pryor set up and helped manage before coming Malloy’s commissioner of education.

Perhaps the most incredible development of all is that teams reviewing the Year 2 Alliance District Plans include Pryor’s two law school interns, who despite no experience at all, are helping to play a pivotal role in allocating tens of millions in taxpayer funds.

And meanwhile;

Thirty towns…

Thirty board of educations…

Thirty school superintendents…

Hundreds of schools…

And tens of thousands of students are all waiting for the Commissioner of Education and his operation to get their act together so students can actually access the programs and services they were promised.

Such incompetence would never, ever be deemed acceptable in any other setting.

It is sad and unsettling commentary that with only weeks to go until the new school year begins, the Malloy administration can’t even tell Connecticut towns and school districts how much money they will be getting this year.

Mayor Finch and Bridgeport say… But we don’t want to spend our money on education…

Connecticut’s taxpayers cover more than 80 percent of the costs associated with running Bridgeport’s Schools.

For more than twenty-five years, Connecticut’s primary funding mechanism has been called the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula.   Underfunded by about $2 billion dollars, the money is distributed to towns based on a variety of factors including the number of students living in poverty and the town’s ability to come up with their own funds via their local property taxes.

Every town gets some state aid; the poorest towns get the most.

There are three criteria that towns must meet to get their state aid;

First, the entire amount of the ECS state-grant MUST be spent on education

Second, any increase in the ECS grant CAN NOT be used to supplant local funding for education.

Third, the town must invest a minimum amount of its own money, a system that is called the ECS Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR).

As the CT Post is reporting, “Mayor Bill Finch’s administration is negotiating feverishly in Hartford to shrink a state-mandated $3.3 million spike in education spending that the mayor inexplicably left out of his proposed budget.”

The story goes on to read, “Since Finch did not include the money in his 2013-14 fiscal plan, Bridgeport officials are now trying to convince the state they should not be on the hook for the $3.3 million because of all the unreimbursed “in-kind” school expenses the city covers.”

Connecticut’s entire school funding system is based on the notion of shared expenses. Bridgeport is at the very top of the list of towns that benefit from the state system.

Although the ECS fails to allocate sufficient funds to cover what the state should be paying, rather than pay their share, Bridgeport officials claim that they should be allowed to duck their responsibility to pay their required share.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that Bridgeport appears to have any ally in Ben Barnes, Malloy’s Secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management.

Barnes worked for Malloy when Malloy was the Mayor of Stamford.  When Malloy left the Mayor’s office in Stamford to run for governor, Barnes landed in an administrative position in Bridgeport.  Soon after, he transferred over to become the chief financial officer for Bridgeport schools.

Barnes knows very well that Bridgeport’s schools are underfunded and he knows the requirements of the local Minimum Budget Requirement law.

However, instead of demanding the Bridgeport, like every other Connecticut city, meet its MBR Requirement, Barnes is quoted in the CT Post article as saying, “If a city takes over some $1 million activity for the (school) board, they get a credit, or vice versa…So we’ve agreed to look for some additional information from them. (And) we’ll provide them with some additional clarification of how we’re interpreting the statute.”

But Barnes knows that history and intent of the law and there was never the notion that a city’s “in-kind” support for its schools was meant to take the place of the city’s fundamental requirement to meet its Minimum Budget Requirement.

Last month, the school budget proposed by the Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s “Superintendent of Schools,” counted on the additional $3.3 million the law requires Bridgeport to spend.

Now Vallas is changing his tune.  According to the CT Post article, at a recent Bridgeport Board of Alderman meeting, Vallas said, “Do we need $3.3 million more? Yeah…Can we live without it? If we have to, we will find a way to do that.”

So here is the person heading up Bridgeport’s schools backing off his own budget proposal and the need for the state and the city to properly fund Bridgeport’s schools.

Meanwhile, the CT Post reports that, “Finch and his office have refused to discuss the matter publicly, instead issuing the same terse statements that the administration is focused on a resolution.”

This isn’t the first time the Bridgeport has attempted to duck their local funding requirement.  A major Connecticut State Department of Education Audit in 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 raised extremely serious problems with Bridgeport’s unwillingness to fulfill its legal obligations when it comes to properly funding education.

Here we are, almost ten years later…

And we are left with the realization that the more things change, the more the stay the same.

Once again, Bridgeport officials want us to believe that Connecticut’s education funding laws applies to everyone but them.

For the full CT Post article go to:  http://m.ctpost.com/connpost/db_43463/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=hcRAd05N&full=true#display

Don’t let the word Democrat confuse you…

Connecticut Mirror, March 22, 2010;

“The state Supreme Court [ruled] that Connecticut schoolchildren are guaranteed an adequate standard of quality in their public schools — a crucial legal victory for a coalition seeking to force a dramatic increase in state spending on education.”

Connecticut Mirror, April 10, 2013:

“State moves to dismiss long-standing challenge to education funding

Calling their demands “extreme and radical” as a trial draws nearer, the Connecticut attorney general has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed by parents and educators demanding more funding for education.

In a motion to dismiss filed earlier this year, Attorney General George C. Jepsen argues that the education problems in the complaint dating back to 2003 have since been addressed by lawmakers through the changes to state law made in 2012.”

So there you have it.  Democrat Attorney General, George Jepsen, calling the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education funding (CCJEF), “extreme and radical.”

Democratic Attorney General, telling the CT Mirror’s Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, that, “’It is too late to evaluate the adequacy of the education system that existed at the time the lawsuit was filed’…By the same token, he added, ‘It is too early to adjudicate Connecticut’s newly reformed education system.’”

However, despite Jepsen’s outrageous comments, everyone associated with Connecticut public education recognizes that the State’s ECS funding formula is at least $2 billion under-funded.  Even the Malloy Administration’s own budget director, Ben Barnes, has confirmed that number.

Even more to the point, as a Connecticut State Representative, State Senator and candidate for Governor, George Jepsen, like all major Democratic leaders, pledged to increase Connecticut’s education funding up to a level in which the state paid at least 50% of the total costs of primary and secondary education, while local property tax payers were left paying the remaining amount.

In fact, the decision to adopt an income tax was driven, in no small part, by the commitment Democrats made to shift the responsibility for funding education away from local property taxpayers and onto the state.

Now, more than 20 years later, Connecticut is far where it needs to be when it comes to adequately funding its public education system.

And now, leaders like Governor Malloy and Attorney General Jepsen are conveniently forgetting the promises they made time and time again.

As Wait, What? readers read last week, Governor Malloy was not only a supporter of the CCEJF school funding lawsuit, he was one of the initial plaintiffs in the case.

In the earlier Wait, What? post entitled, “The Dan to Dannel transformation on the most important education lawsuit in Connecticut history,” we reviewed how candidate Dan Malloy approached the most important education lawsuit of our lifetime.

That approach included a November 22, 2005 press release by Stamford Mayor and Gubernatorial Candidate Dan Malloy entitled “Malloy Supports Lawsuit Challenging Education Funding System…says that reforming the education funding system is an issue of ‘fundamental fairness.’”

As a candidate seeking votes, Malloy’s gubernatorial campaign wrote, “Stamford Mayor and Gubernatorial Candidate Dan Malloy joined fellow members of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF] today in filing a lawsuit challenging Connecticut’s existing school funding formula as inadequate. Malloy is a founding member of CCJEF coalition, which commissioned a June 2005 cost study demonstrating that 92 of Connecticut’s 166 school districts fell short of funding levels deemed to be necessary for providing children with an adequate education, as demanded under Federal and State law.”

Malloy’s press release quoted him as saying, “The bottom line is that Connecticut’s Education Cost Sharing [ECS] Formula should be scrapped and rebuilt and the State of Connecticut must finally live up to its obligation and pay its share of our education costs. The existing ECS formula has been deliberately under-funded and arbitrarily capped. This isn’t an urban versus suburban issue or a big government versus small government issue; it’s an issue of fundamental fairness. Every child in Connecticut deserves the opportunity to get an adequate education. Our constitution demands it.”

Over the years, George Jepsen claimed to be equally committed to a fairer, more equitable school funding program.  But now, as Connecticut’s Attorney General, Jepsen is asking the courts to dismiss this historic and fundamentally important lawsuit.

Instead of standing up to ensure Connecticut’s Constitution is followed, Jepsen is maneuvering to try to keep the judicial branch of government from playing the very role it was created to do.

In the recent motion to dismiss the case Jepsen wrote, “The bottom line is that plaintiffs’ extreme and radical requested relief would amount to taking the state’s funding decisions for public schools away from the citizens’ elected representatives…”

That statement is totally and absolutely untrue.

It is beyond untrue, it is an outright lie.

No one is expected the Connecticut courts to eliminate the role of the Connecticut General Assembly, and Attorney General Jepson knows that better than anyone.

The fact is that the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that Connecticut’s children have a Constitutional right to a quality education.

A series of Connecticut governors and Legislatures have refused to provide the funding necessary to fulfill that Constitutional requirement.

The lawsuit is a necessary and appropriate mechanism to ask the courts to require that governors and legislatures actually stop ducking their constitutional responsibilities

It is one thing for Attorney General Jepsen to argue that the state doesn’t want to provide sufficient funding; it would even be plausible for Attorney General Jepsen to argue that the existing funding is enough to provide a quality education, but it is beyond outrageous that any elected official, especially a Democrat, would claim that his lawsuit is radical or extreme.

By clicking the link below, you can read the full CTMIrror story, including the powerful and persuasive counter-argument to Attorney General Jepsen’ that is being put forward by State Representative Gary Holder-Winfield.  Unfortunately, a full reading of the article will drive home the appreciation that for some politicians, there is simply no limit to their willingness to say anything in their effort to stretch and twist the truth.

The complete CTMirror story is here: http://ctmirror.org/story/19681/were-education-reforms-passed-enough-derail-school-funding-lawsuit

 

It’s only the most important school funding case in our lives – Malloy supported it/Now he opposes it

This week, fellow public education advocate and fellow blogger Wendy Lecker’s “must read” commentary piece is entitled “Malloy reverses earlier commitment to school funding case.” 

We’ll be hearing  and I’ll be writing a lot more about this incredibly pivotal law suit, but Wendy Lecker’s column really frames the issues and provides readers with a great update about where things stand.

Lecker writes, “As Stamford’s mayor, Dannel Malloy was an original plaintiff in the pending school funding case, The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell, and led the charge to win just and equitable funding for Connecticut schools. Now, Governor Malloy is trying aggressively to get the case dismissed. In doing so, he has exposed his 2012 education reforms as empty promises compared to what Connecticut’s children really need.

The plaintiffs in CCJEF v. Rell charge that the state is violating the constitutional right of Connecticut’s children to an adequate education by depriving school districts of billions of dollars. Consequently, schools, especially in Connecticut’s neediest districts, cannot afford basic educational tools such as a sufficient number of teachers, reasonable class size, adequate school facilities, services for at-risk children, electives, AP classes, even books, computers and paper.

Governor Malloy’s budget director admitted the state is shortchanging our schools by about $2 billion and even Governor Malloy conceded that the state is not currently meeting its constitutional duty to adequately fund our schools.

But that reality hasn’t stopped the state from trying to duck the lawsuit. Instead, the state claims that the 2012 education “reform” legislation will fix everything, while at the same time as much as acknowledging that they have no evidence to show that their reforms will actually work.”

You can read Lecker’s full commentary piece at the Stamford Advocate: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Malloy-reverses-earlier-commitment-4377589.php

Earlier this month, Dianne Kaplan DeVries also wrote about the pending case in a CTNewsjunkie piece entitled Fighting Children in the Courtroom.  Dianne Kaplan DeVries is the Project Director for the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, the plaintiffs in the CCJEF v. Rell education adequacy and equity lawsuit.  Her article provides additional valuable background on the case.

In Connecticut, Where There’s a Reformy Con, There’s a CAN! (a new post by Prof. Bruce Baker)

Below is a link to a new column written by Bruce Baker on his blog School Finance 101.

Baker is a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers.  He is also one of the nation’s leading experts on school finance policy.  No, actually I take that back, he is the nation’s leading expert on school finance policy.  He is also very knowledgeable about the strengths and weaknesses of Connecticut’s particular school financing system and has written extensively about how Connecticut’s funding formula has been corrupted over the years.

Whereas I call myself an advocate for better public school financing in Connecticut because I blog about the topic, Baker actually understands the complexities surrounding the issue at an unprecedented level.

If we could just get our state’s policymakers to read – and more importantly – understand the key points Baker raises, we’d be more than halfway toward solving the problems facing Connecticut’s public education funding system.

Until then, I urge everyone else to read and learn;

In Connecticut, Where There’s a Reformy Con, There’s a CAN!

I was intrigued a few days ago when I saw this headline in my news alerts regarding school funding.

Headline: Report: Funding helps low-performing school districts

I was particularly intrigued because the headline comes from a Connecticut newspaper where I am fully aware that the state really hasn’t done crap to substantively increase resources for low performing, or more specifically high need schools and districts.

Disclaimer: I am fully aware of this because I have been providing technical/expert assistance to local public school districts that have been persistently shortchanged by the state school finance formula (Education Cost Sharing Formula). That, and even prior to my involvement supporting these districts (and more importantly, the kids they serve) in Connecticut, I had already blogged on their plight.

So then, how can it possibly be that that a CT newspaper would print such a ridiculous headline? And where could one possibly find a “Report” that somehow validates that the state has provided funding to help low performing districts?

Well, in Connecticut, where there’s data-free drivel on education policy spewing from the headlines, there’s usually one single source for that drivel – our old friends at ConnCAN!

Yep, they’ve produced a new report! And it’s about as technically solid as many of their previous reports!

An important caveat here is that the ConnCAN report itself (the linked report) doesn’t really seem to address directly the point that is highlighted in this article – that the reforms being implemented by the Malloy administration have improved the financial conditions of districts serving high need populations.

So then where does this strange assertion come from? Did the author of the “news” (used as loosely as possible) article simply make this up – or were they fed this line by ConnCAN? I’m not sure… but the author of the article in the Middletown newspaper begins with this bold statement:

Funding made available by last year’s Public Act 12-116 has helped some of the states lowest-performing school districts, including Middletown, according to the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, an education advocacy organization based in New Haven.

Then, the author of the article summarizes what are characterized as “Highlights from ConnCAN’s March 2013 Progress Report.”

I find it hard to believe the author of the article crafted these summaries on his/her own. So, let’s take these fact-challenged reformy highlights one at a time (again, on the assumption that these highlights are somehow intended to support the article’s thesis – that the reforms have somehow mitigated funding problems/disparities?):
ConnCAN Con:

School Finance: P.A. 12-116 created a Common Chart of Accounts to be implemented in 2014-15, creating across the board standards aimed at enhancing transparency in education spending. To date, the Office of Policy and Management has selected the accounting firm Blum Shapiro to develop a framework for Common Chart of Accounts development and execution.

MY REPLY

Let’s start here with simple acknowledgement that creating a common chart of accounts does little or nothing – okay, NOTHING – to enhance the equity or adequacy of educational funding across districts. So, what did the state actually do to enhance that funding? Not so much really.

Figure 1 shows the effect of the $50 million dollar increase in ECS Aid for 2012-13, when added to Net Current Expenditures (NCEP) for 2011-12. The 2011-12 NCEP distribution is shown in green dots. The changes to NCEP that would result from the additional state aid are shown in orange dots. In green dots, we see that districts like Bridgeport, New Britain, Waterbury and Meriden are significantly disadvantaged by the ECS formula in 2011-12, in terms of their resultant NCEP.

AND, perhaps more importantly, we see that “increases” to funding for 12-13 really didn’t change much!

Read the rest at http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/in-connecticut-where-theres-a-reformy-con-theres-a-can/

State must take serious look at school funding (according to Wendy Lecker)

It is time for a real, serious and honest look at Connecticut’s school funding crisis, not the cop-out  version that has been recently proposed as part of Connecticut’s budget plan.

Fellow pro-public education blogger and commentator, Wendy Lecker, has another “MUST READ” column this week in the Stamford Advocate, CT Post and the other newspapers that are part of the Hearst Connecticut Media Group.

You can find her full post here; Wendy Lecker: State must take serious look at school funding

As Lecker notes, “Connecticut is a study in contrasts. We have pockets of incredible wealth, and areas struggling with entrenched poverty. We have school districts with few needy children, and those with high concentrations of children living in poverty, English language learners and students with disabilities. There are districts with gleaming labs, large marching bands, theater, and foreign language offered in kindergarten, while in other districts, children sit in overcrowded classrooms with inadequate libraries, no electives, insufficient books and not even enough paper. This resource disparity translates into a disparity of educational opportunity, with some districts sending scores of children to elite colleges while others have alarmingly low graduation rates.

Connecticut has allowed this chasm in educational opportunity to exist for years, in part because we have never taken an honest look at what it costs to educate all children no matter what their need.”

Lecker recognizes that the process must begin with an “educational adequacy cost study.”

As she explains, “In such a study, experts first identify the basic educational resources needed to meet state standards. Then, they “cost out” those resources, taking into account the factors that affect the cost, such as student need, geographic differences, and population density. Different levels of student need, such as poverty, limited English proficiency and disability, affect the cost of resources necessary. Moreover, the severity and/or concentration of poverty and the level of disability can add to educational cost. For over 20 years states and courts have used these studies to devise rational school finance systems with a transparent relationship between state aid, student need and a district’s ability to raise revenue.”

But despite an across the board recognition that a cost study is needed, Governor Malloy failed to propose one as part of his recent changes to the State’s Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula.

Instead, as Lecker points out, Malloy ” proposed inappropriate changes to our school finance system that will render even more children invisible in the eyes of the ECS formula.”

Furthermore, she writes, “The governor’s plan to completely remove English Language Learners from ECS is a step in exactly the wrong direction. Such a move would have devastating effect on many municipalities. In a state with a growing Latino population, and others from non-English-speaking homes, this proposal is ludicrous. Moreover, Malloy’s proposal reduces the weight for poverty, providing fewer funds to educate poor children. To make matters worse, the proposal once again fails to include a weight for special education.”

Although Governor Malloy has failed to take the necessary steps towards fiscal transparency and adequacy, Connecticut’s legislators can correct that mistake.  

You can find Lecker’s full commentary piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-State-must-take-serious-look-at-4301439.php#ixzz2LjtWjttN