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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some legislators want to shovel even more money to some of Connecticut’s Charter Schools

A recent article by Wendy Lecker entitled, Beware the new Connecticut legislative plan to channel even more public funds to charters, noted that a group of Democratic state legislators have released a plan aimed at diverting even more scarce public funds to Connecticut’s charter schools will doing little to address the underlying system that inadequately funds Connecticut’s public schools.

Turning their backs on the need for a state-wide school funding adequacy study, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) and State Representative Jason Rojas (D-East Hartford) have proposed an extraordinary school funding system that would promote a Trump/DeVos like “school choice” program in Connecticut.

Their plan would divert even more taxpayer funds to Connecticut’s charter schools, while taking money away from Connecticut’s successful magnet schools.

As the CT Mirror reported, their plan proposes to have the;

“…state calculate how much each local district spends to educate a student on average and then withhold one-quarter of that amount for each student who leaves for a magnet or charter school. The withheld funding would be sent to the school the child actually attends.

Currently districts do not get funding for students who leave for charter schools. However, districts still get state funding for students who leave for magnet schools, which is somewhat offset by tuition that magnets charge the sending districts.

The changes that Duff and Rojas propose would drive huge funding increases for several charter schools — including about $1,800 more per student for Achievement First Hartford Academy and $1,700 for Stamford Academy…

[…]

The network of regional magnet schools opened in the Hartford region in an effort to comply with a Connecticut Supreme Court order to desegregate Hartford schools would be hit hard by the changes, with a loss of $3,569 per student.

The legislators’ plan also fails to properly account for the added cost of educating students who require special educations services and those who need extra help learning the English Language.

One explanation for the proposal’s failures is that it appears to have been developed in conjunction with The Connecticut School Finance Project, a charter school advocacy front group that has been working closely – in violation of Connecticut’s ethics laws – with Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration.

Beware the new Connecticut legislative plan to channel even more public funds to charters

In a new piece published in the Stamford Advocate, education columnist and advocate Wendy Lecker reveals a stunning new proposal that would force taxpayers to give Connecticut’s charter schools even more scarce public funds.  Governor Dannel Malloy already gives Connecticut’s charter school more than $110 million a year and this year, while proposing the deepest cuts in state history to public schools, Malloy unveiled a plan to increase that amount by about 10 percent.  However, a group of Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly want to divert even more public funds to these privately owned, but publicly funded entities.

As Wendy Lecker explains;

Using the Betsy DeVos playbook, Norwalk Sen. Bob Duff and East Hartford Representatives Jason Rojas and Jeffrey Currey are pushing major changes to Connecticut’s school funding system, concocted by the charter front group, the Connecticut School Finance Project; in order to funnel money directly from school districts to privately run charter schools.

Currently, public school districts pay for the cost of education from: a state allocation, ostensibly calculated under Connecticut’s school funding formula, the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula; local funding, i.e. the local share; and some federal funds.

Charter schools are considered independent school districts, authorized and overseen by the state. Local communities have no say over the operation of charters within their borders. Charters are exempt from many requirements, such as having all certified teachers and serving all grade levels. Thus, it is logical that districts should not pay local dollars to charters. Charters are funded through a separate state funding stream, and receive federal and private funds.

However, the Connecticut School Finance Project proposal will now have local districts paying for these privately run charters. For every child attending a charter school, a local district will lose a portion of its ECS allocation equal to about 25 percent of its local per-pupil share. Charter schools will receive an ECS allocation that will cover the rest of its funding. So charters will get more state funding than the local school district, plus local districts will now pay them an additional penalty for each charter school student. As charters expand, districts will lose more.

The DeVos team used this strategy in Michigan. They instituted a system where money intended for public schools flowed to charters. They then fought for explosive charter growth. This toxic combination decimated budgets and schools of Michigan’s poorest cities, such as Detroit.

Worse still, this proposal fails to fund Connecticut schools adequately. A foundation aid formula, like ECS, is only adequate if its components are: i.e., the foundation amount, the amount necessary to educate one child with no special needs; and the weights that adjust the foundation amount for different needs, like students living in poverty, English Language Learners and students with disabilities.

This proposal’s foundation amount is not based on any assessment of the cost of education in Connecticut. Instead the proposed foundation amount is supposedly derived from average spending in other states — a ludicrous way to estimate the cost of education here. The proposal does not even consider spending on operating expenses, i.e. the expenses needed to run a district. It only considers spending on a narrow selection of expenses they call “core instructional costs.” It is no wonder the foundation amount this group proposes is lower than Connecticut’s foundation amount back in 2007-08.

The proposed student need weights are also not based on the actual additional cost of serving needy students. The 30 percent poverty weight is less than half of what experts say is needed to educate poor students. The proposal omits additional weighting for students living in severe poverty, who are costlier to serve. Why? Because charters tend to serve students who are less poor than their host public school districts. If the formula does not differentiate, then charters are rewarded for continuing to ignore the most disadvantaged.

The proposed ELL weight is a ridiculous 10 percent — only one-tenth of what it necessary to fund education for these students. It will particularly harm districts with large and growing populations of ELL kids. However, charters routinely under-serve ELL students, so a low weight means they will not get penalized financially for continuing this practice.

This proposal removes special education funds from the ECS allocation. For a group claiming its aim is a “unified” formula for all students, why omit students with disabilities? Special education is the thorniest cost to deal with when privatizing schools. Removing it clears the way for charter expansion.

And though some districts stand to gain this year (especially Duff’s, and Rojas’ and Currey’s), the proposal reduces the state share of funding for our poorest districts.

Even proponents admit this proposal woefully underfunds Connecticut schools. The group acknowledges that the ECS formula is currently underfunded by more than $600 million. Realistic estimates conclude that the total shortfall is over $1.5 billion.

Yet this proposal plans to increase school funding by only $320 million — over six years! And there is no mechanism to increase state funding as costs rise.

Raiding public school funds to favor privately run charters, that serve less than 2 percent of Connecticut students, is not equity. It will leave our neediest students with less.

You can read and comment on the full article at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-A-new-plan-to-channel-local-funds-11058087.php

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

Bridgeport Board of Education Member Maria Pereira speaks out against Malloy Education Cuts

Maria Pereira is a public education advocate and member of the Bridgeport Board of Education.  She recently testified before the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee on Governor Dannel Malloy’s proposal to slash state support for Connecticut’s public schools. In her testimony Pereira highlights the devastating impact Malloy’s budget would have on Bridgeport.

Pereira explained;

I write to you today as a Bridgeport Public School (BPS) graduate, parent, Board of Education member (BOE), and staunch defender of true public education.

I and my five siblings were born and raised in Bridgeport and we all graduated from the Bridgeport Public Schools. When I look back on the education I received I often come to the conclusion that I received a good education administrated by amazing Bridgeport Public School Teachers.

I have been a staunch and vocal proponent of our true public schools since 2009, which is when I discovered my 12 year old daughter was on her 9th seventh grade math teacher as of March that school year. I often believe something good comes out of everything bad. My good was that this was my catalyst for becoming involved in the state of public education in the City that I love, Bridgeport.

I have witnessed public education deteriorate in Bridgeport over the last three decades due in large measure to the severe underfunding of the BPS.  Governor Malloy’s own ECS Taskforce Report issued in January 2012 recommended using “Free and Reduced Price Lunch eligibility to determine student need”, yet the proposed budget rejects that recommendation by using Husky A enrollment as the measurement for poverty. This will allow thousands of students living in poverty NOT to be counted. Examples are many fathers are court ordered to provide health coverage through their employer, yet the child lives with mother and in poverty. Many non-citizens do not, and will not apply for Husky A, especially in today’s world of mass deportation.  They are frightened to give their personal information.

There is another $22,000,000 in Malloy’s proposed budget for charter school enrollment and new school expansion. How is this state facing approximately $3 billion in budget deficits over the next two years, yet the SDOE requested bids for more charter schools? Why is there is always more money for the most segregated schools with the highest suspension and expulsion rates in CT? These CMO’s are pocketing between 10% and 13% of every state dollar provided to them for “fees” instead of using these funds to educate their students.

Bridgeport has more charter schools than any other district in CT with six. Over 10% of our total student population is in charter schools while the state is at 3%. Our school district had over $6,000,000 dollars in ECS funds siphoned off to these charter schools last year alone because we must cover their bus transportation and special ed. costs which is absurd. Under state statute, charter school students are defined as students of the “state” not the local school district, yet we must redirect our limited resources to fund charter school costs.  Just ten social workers for these charter schools cost us $1,000,000 last year. This upcoming school year, it is projected that we will be paying for more school busses to charter schools than our own Bridgeport Public Schools.

If you want to see the results of under regulated and over expansion of charter schools in urban cities, and how it negatively impacts true public schools, neighborhoods, and communities; one only has to look at Chicago, Philadelphia, Newark, Detroit, etc. where the siphoning off of billions of dollars has caused such strain on impoverished urban communities that some are on the verge of collapse.

Bridgeport was heavily involved in the CCJEF lawsuit and has waited over 9 years to have the courts rule in favor of what so many of us that live in impoverished urban cities already know; our schools have been severely underfunded for decades.  The ECS Taskforce Report stated … “the state must make a long-term commitment to increasing its proportional share of total educational funding in the state. This commitment must be faithfully carried out in the biennial state budget through annual increases in total state funding for education including funding the ECS grants)…”

Governor Malloy’s Proposed Budget requires Alliance Districts to maintain the 2017 Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR); however it gives the Mayor the authority to appeal to the state Board of Education for a waiver of the MBR requirement. In essence, the MBR would be non-binding. And the icing on the cake is that although the state may well increase ECS funding to a district, the city/town is NOT required to use those funds for their public schools.

The ECS Taskforce Report calculations placed Bridgeport as the most underfunded school district in CT on a cash basis with a projection that we were underfunded by approximately $48,000,000 on an annual basis.  Bridgeport spends approximately $14,000 per pupil, New Haven is at approximately $17,000, and Hartford is at approximately $19,000.

This proposed budget would reduce Bridgeport’s ECS Allocation by $26,000,000, eliminate $ 5,000,000 in the Special Education Excess Cost Grant, and add $13,000,000 in Teacher Pension costs with a total reduction in our budget of $43,779,868. We would gain $39,151,000 in the new Special Education Grant which will give Bridgeport a net loss of $ 4,658,051.  Hartford will lose $4,841,869 and New Haven will lose $20,261,091. Teacher Pension costs are expected to balloon over the next 15 years.  What will happen to our cities/towns then?

Is this what our 21,000 Bridgeport Public School children waited for after 9 years of litigation in which we prevailed, but the end result is they are losing close to $5,000,000 in state funding? Is this really the comprehensive funding plan to close the achievement gap? I certainly hope not.

Please reject Governor Malloy’s proposed Education Budget.

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.

Breaking News – Bridgeport, Danbury, New Britain and Waterbury among most financially strapped school districts in the nation

In a stunning and disturbing new report highlighting the political malfeasance of elected and appointed leadership across the country, the Education Law Center has identified 47 school districts in 20 states that rank as America’s Most Fiscally Disadvantaged School Districts.

The report identifies Bridgeport, Danbury, New Britain and Waterbury as among the most financially strapped school districts in the nation.  Children in these districts are attending schools that are under severe fiscal distress.

While Connecticut ranks as among the wealthiest states in the nation, Connecticut’s failed school funding system leaves many communities without the financial resources they need to ensure that all of the state’s children have access to high quality educational opportunities.

The new report identifies school districts with higher than average student need and lower than average funding.

The Education Law Center explains;

This mix of fiscally disadvantaged school districts arrayed across the country underscore the absence of a coherent and fair approach to financing state public education systems. Many districts – especially urban, inner suburban and rural, serving very high-need student populations – continue to struggle from a lack of sufficient funding, which makes it impossible to provide all students with the opportunity for a high quality education. This does not happen by accident.

Many state school finance systems are not designed based on the actual costs of purchasing the teachers, support staff and other resources to deliver rigorous education standards, including the additional resources necessary to meet pressing needs in the nation’s high poverty schools and districts. As a consequence, some states simply fail to provide sufficient support to address student needs across districts and differences in local fiscal capacity to meet those needs. In other cases, states create aid formulas that measure district need and/or local fiscal capacity imprecisely or inaccurately, with the result that some comparably needy districts are less well-funded than others. Even worse, some states allocate the majority of their aid with little or no sensitivity to either local district need or fiscal capacity.

This list of the most fiscally disadvantaged districts highlights the urgent need for school finance reform in many states. This reform must start with a determination of essential education resources and end with a funding formula that accounts for district poverty concentration and local fiscal capacity. It will require replacing outmoded, arbitrary funding formulas and the historic method of distributing funding based on prior year spending and political, not educational, considerations.

This list also underscores the national imperative for all states to continuously work to ensure that their public education finance systems are meeting the needs of all students and the demands placed on local districts, schools and educators. Some states with deeply regressive funding, such as Illinois, need drastic action to improve. Other states, such as Massachusetts, is on the path to fair funding but has more work to do to ensure all children have the opportunity to succeed.

The ELC concludes;

“These findings again show that Governors and Legislatures in far too many states stubbornly resist investing in K – 12 education so all children have the resources needed to succeed in school,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and a report co-author. “The states with districts on this list chronically underfund their poorest schools, leaving behind thousands of vulnerable children. This is our national hall of shame.”

You can read “America’s Most Fiscally Disadvantaged School Districts” at http://edlawcenter.org/assets/files/pdfs/Newsblasts/Disadvantaged_Districts_Report.pdf

Charter schools pose financial risk to municipalities by James Mulholland

The charter school industry is proposing a change to Connecticut’s school funding system to require that local communities hand over local funds to subsidize charter schools attended by local students.  The “money follows the child” funding system leaves local public schools without the resources necessary to ensure children have access to a comprehensive education.  In this piece, first published in the CT Mirror, educator and education advocate James Mulholland examines this latest money grab by the charter schools.

Mulholland writes;

In  December of last year, the Connecticut Department of Education issued a request for proposals for new charter schools – the first time in nearly three years.  As the state grapples with a budget disaster and Gov. Dannel Malloy continues to propose changes that would dramatically change the way Connecticut pays for education, the state should refrain from opening any new charter schools and freeze the funding of existing ones.

Moody’s credit rating service has warned of the fiscal risks to municipalities posed by charter schools.  In its 2013 report, Charter Schools Pose Growing Risk for Urban Public Schools, Moody’s concluded that a rise in charter school enrollment, “is likely to create negative credit pressure on school districts in economically weak urban areas.”

According to Michael D’Arcy, one of two authors of the report, “A small but growing number of traditional public districts face financial stress due to the movement of students to charters.”

As urban areas such as Hartford teeter on the brink of bankruptcy, lowered bond ratings could have a devastating effect on already dire budgetary circumstances.  Gov. Malloy is proposing a new municipal accountability system for cities and towns facing severe fiscal difficulties.  The proposal includes a multi-tiered ranking system for communities that could lead to greater state oversight of local budgets and limit annual property tax increases for the cities and towns deemed most at risk.

Under the proposal, a municipality could be assigned to one of the first three tiers if it has a poor fund balance or credit rating.  Bridgeport and Stamford have resisted the state’s efforts to open charter schools in their cities.  In 2015, the State Board of Education unanimously approved the application of the Stamford Charter School for Excellence despite the fact that the Stamford Board of Education voted 7-1 to urge the state to deny the application.  The state of Connecticut may very well force cities to accept a charter school that may adversely affect its credit rating in the future.

Moody’s recently reiterated its belief about the adverse effects of charter schools this past November when Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly rejected legislation that would have increased the state’s cap on charter schools.  Moody’s warned Boston and three other Massachusetts cities that passage of a ballot measure to expand charter schools could weaken their financial standing and ultimately threaten their bond ratings.

Nicholas Lehman, an assistant vice president at Moody’s, warned that passage of the referendum would be a “credit negative” for the cities.  Moody’s responded to Massachusetts voters’ rejection of the plan with a “credit positive” and reiterated that the history of charter schools shows they drain money from city education budgets.

Connecticut currently provides funding in excess of $100 million per year to operate 24 charter schools, 10 of which are managed by six management companies.  These companies charge a management fee of approximately 10 percent of the amount they receive from the state.

“If we saw fees of 10 percent or less, that would be reasonable,” says Robert Kelly, who oversees charter schools at the education department.  In part, these fees are used to duplicate administrative services such as payroll and human resources, which are already provided by the districts in which charter schools operate.  It seems particularly wasteful at a time when the state is looking to regionalize municipal services.

While cities and towns have seen their education funding slashed, Connecticut’s charter management companies have seen their coffers overflow. Last year, the State Board of Education increased charter school enrollment by 4 percent for the current school year. While the enrollment increase cost the state an additional $4.1 million, funding for traditional public schools was cut by $51.7 million and regional magnet schools, opened to help desegregate city schools, had budget cuts totaling $15.4 million

The diversion of millions of dollars from traditional public schools is one reason the New England Conference of the NAACP and the Massachusetts Lawyer’s Committee filed a motion against the effort to lift the cap on the number of charter schools in Massachusetts.  It was the belief of Juan Cofield, president of the New England Conference of the NAACP, that “setting up a separate system is destructive to the notion of providing the best education for all students.”

Connecticut should not continue to pursue charter schools as a means to meet the educational needs of its children.  The financial risk to our cities and towns is just too great.

You can read and comment on the original piece at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2017/02/13/opinion-james-mulholland-2/

Malloy’s proposed state budget slashes aid to Connecticut’s public schools

Call it devastating, draconian or simply a vicious attack on Connecticut’s children, parents, educators and public schools, the governor who has consistently worked to undermine and privatize public education, since taking office in 2011, has now proposed a new state budget that destroys Connecticut’s already failing constitutional requirement to adequately fund its public schools.

In an effort to avoid raising state taxpayers and maintain the state’s system of coddling the rich from paying their fair share income taxes, Governor Dannel Malloy has called for shifting $407 million in teacher retirement payments to cities and towns in the first year of his proposed budget, an amount that would increase to $420.9 million in the second year of the biannual budget plan.

In addition, rather than appropriately fund Connecticut’s education grants, Malloy’s budget plan seeks to redirect existing state aid for public schools to Connecticut’s poorer towns by slashing grants to wealthier and middle income communities.

Overall, 31 Connecticut communities would see an increase in aid while 138 towns would get less state funds, with many towns getting significantly less state education funding.

Making the situation far worse, Malloy’s budget plan allows most towns to redirect what education aid they will receive away from their public schools.  Rather than requiring towns to maintain their school budgets, Connecticut communities could use what aid they receive to pay for non-education expenditures.

Together these two developments will produce devastating cuts to education programs across Connecticut.

In his effort to pinpoint which communities win and which lose, Malloy is also proposing a significant change to the way in which poverty is defined, a factor that drives how much money towns get under Connecticut’s education formulas.

Presently, poverty is based on the number of students who qualify for free or reduced-priced meals in each community.  But Malloy’s proposal would replace that system with the number of people who participate in the state’s health insurance plan for children, called Husky A.

The system appears to be designed to help Hartford and a handful of other towns, but raises significant equity issues.  Daniel Long, an expert with Connecticut Voices for children explained,

“The concern is that you would underestimate poverty.”

Speaking with Long, the CT Mirror added,

“Long said that in other states that have shifted to using Medicaid to measure poverty, ‘it was used as a tool to lower who is counted.’ By using the number who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, the state is ‘erring on the side of providing that additional aid.’”

When examining the list of “winners and losers” in Malloy’s plan, the governor’s strategy becomes evident.  The CT Mirror notes,

Hartford, which is facing the possibility of insolvency, is one of the biggest winners in the governor’s proposed budget. Hartford stands to gain $38.1 million in state aid next year, a 17 percent increase. Nearly $12.2 million of that would come from education grants, though it will be up to Bronin and his City Council to decide whether to send it to the struggling city schools. 

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, Malloy’s former legal counsel, was the Greenwich native who moved to Hartford and was elected to the city’s top executive position last year.

Meanwhile, opposition to Malloy’s plan was swift with many towns announcing that his proposal would lead to massive cuts to public schools and large property tax increases in the majority of Connecticut communities.

In addition, a spokesperson for The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education, the plaintiffs in the CCJEF V. Rell school funding lawsuit condemned Malloy’s plan for moving the state in exactly the wrong direction when it comes to properly funding Connecticut’s public schools.

 “These proposed new cuts in state educational support underscore the need for judicial action to ensure that state government meets and does not retreat from its state constitutional responsibilities,” said James J. Finley, principal consultant to CCJEF and an expert witness in the case.

While Malloy has claimed that his plan was designed to take from the rich and give to the poor, the state’s middle income communities are among the hardest hit by Malloy’s funding scheme.

For example, Groton would lose $14.1 million in state aid and Milford would lose $12.1 million.  Other towns hit hard by Malloy’s budget plan include Wallingford, Glastonbury and Fairfield, but dozens of towns would face cuts in state aid that were such that it would lead to massive cuts in local school programs and major property tax increases.

As the lobbyist for Connecticut’s small towns decried,

 “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.”