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

8 Comments

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…

3 Comments

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…

3 Comments

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

7 Comments

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)

4 Comments

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)

11 Comments

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