A CT School Adequacy Study will inform a rational and constitutional education finance program

The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education (CCJEF) explains why the Connecticut General Assembly should approve legislation requiring a CT School Adequacy Study rather than adopt a faulty school funding formula that fails to adequately fund Connecticut’s public schools and diverts even more scarce resources to Connecticut’s unaccountable charter school industry.

Q & A:  THE NEED FOR AN ADEQUACY COST STUDY TO INFORM RATIONAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL EDUCATION FINANCE REFORM

  1.  What is the difference between the proposal supported by CCJEF (Subst. H.B. 7270, File 511) and the Sen. Duff proposal (to be amended to S.B. 2)?

CCJEF proposes an adequacy cost study, which has been done in over 30 other states, to help determine the amount of funding needed to educate different groups of students depending on their needs. S.B. 2 proposes a dramatic revision of the entire funding system which shifts funds away from traditional public neighborhood schools, reduces the “foundation” amount now allocated for each student and makes unsupported guesses at funding levels for poverty students, ELL students and others without first knowing the extent of student needs and how much is required to meet them across districts. S.B. 2 may include some improvements over the status quo but this radical change in education funding was drafted in the dark and has never been subjected to the light of a public hearing or given sufficient scrutiny.

2. Does the Duff proposal responds to the inadequacies defined by the CCJEF court?

No. Because the proposal is not based on empirical data on how much it actually costs to adequately and equitably educate students across Connecticut, the proposal is irrational. The trial court held that “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.” The judge said, “[i]f the legislature can skip around changing [education funding] formulas every year, it invites a new lawsuit every year.” S.B. 2 repeats the mistakes of the past. It is another formula patched together for political and budgetary reasons without sufficient research about the diversity of student needs and the actual costs of an adequate education.

  1. How would S.B. 2 impact students attending magnet schools in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, and Norwalk?

    S.B. 2 would decimate magnet schools across Connecticut because it would reduce magnet school funding by approximately $3,500 per student (based on a recent circulated version of the bill) while shifting those funds to increase payments to charter schools. Magnet schools would be unable to afford their supplemental features, such as classroom aides or special academic themes, which make them attractive options for voluntary desegregation initiatives in Connecticut. Under the proposal, students who leave for magnet schools would take funding away from the “sender” traditional neighborhood schools. At the same time, the network of regional magnet schools would lose approximately $3,569 per student.

    4. Does S.B. 2 shift taxpayer funds from traditional neighborhood schools to charter schools?

    Yes. Without the benefit of any public hearing, S.B. 2 would overturn decades of giving priority to funding of neighborhood public schools by adopting the “money follows the child” concept which shifts taxpayer money away from traditional public schools to charter schools without requiring these charter schools to meet the same accountability standards as other public schools. The inevitable long-term result may well be the slow defunding of many public school districts.

    5. Is a cost study as proposed by CCJEF a well-recognized tool used nationally in cases involving education adequacy brought before courts?

    Yes. Cost studies are not a new idea. In fact they are the gold standard prerequisite in education finance reform efforts. They have been performed in more than 30 states to effectuate education reforms with great success. For instance, the Maryland legislature enacted a bipartisan education funding system based on data and recommendations provided by a cost study. Additional funding was phased in over six years and aimed at closing the achievement gap. In the years that followed, Maryland’s high-need children performed significantly better on all metrics of evaluation than they had in the past. Likewise, in Massachusetts, a 1991 study ultimately formed the groundwork for the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993. This act brought nationally-recognized reforms that catapulted Massachusetts’ student achievement to first in the nation.

    6. What is the budgetary cost of an adequacy cost study?

    The adequacy cost study is estimated to cost $250,000, less than one-in-ten-thousandths of what our state currently spends on primary and secondary education each year. It is a small price to pay to get the real-world data needed by policymakers to develop a rational education funding formula that ensures adequate and equitable educational opportunities for all public school students.

    7. How long would a cost study take?

    A cost study would take about 12 months or less to complete. Under Subst. H.B. 7270, the Department of Education would issue a request for proposals 30 days after passage of the act. The selected entity conducting the cost study would then file an interim report not later than December 14, 2017 and a final report not later than February 14, 2018.

    8. Could the CCJEF proposal be incorporated into the Duff proposal?

    Yes. Elements of S.B. 2, such as the shift in measuring local ability to pay equally between property wealth and income wealth as well as changes in student need factors, could be adopted as the beginning of a transitional financing system while the adequacy cost study is being performed.

    9. Has anyone proposed conducting a cost study in the past?

    Yes. Back in 2013, Gov. Malloy’s Task Force to Study State Education Funding recommended that “a comprehensive cost study regarding the demographic, economic and education cost factors … should be considered in determining an appropriate foundation level for the cost of education.”  Indeed, portioning out funding for each district without this knowledge is fiscally irresponsible and puts our children at risk.

  2. Has the General Assembly taken any action on developing a cost study?

    Yes. The Education Committee reported out Subst. H.B. 7270, File 511 which proposes a comprehensive “adequacy study of public school funding” to be completed in the next 12 months. This adequacy cost study is desperately needed to provide the hard, real-world data necessary to get education finance reform done right in Connecticut.

BEWARE – Governor Dannel Malloy’s devastating cuts to public education

At a time when Connecticut’s students, parents and educators need and deserve adequate funding for the state’s public schools,  Governor Dannel Malloy has proposed the most drastic cuts to public education in Connecticut history.

In testimony last week before the Connecticut General Assembly, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF] identified the most serious problems with Malloy’s plan to slash funding for public schools in Connecticut.

As CCJEF explain, Malloy’s outrageous proposal,

Reduces overall state support for K-12 public education by at least $364 million

 

Zeroes out or reduces ECS funding to 131 municipalities/school districts.

 

The $428 million cut in ECS is justified by a fictional special education proxy that has no basis in per district special education student counts or expenses.

 

Lowers the ECS foundation amount from $11,525 to $8,999 for FY 18 and thereafter, but increases per pupil funding for charter schools from $11,000 to $11,500. [The ECS foundation amount in FY 08 was $9,687.]

 

Changes the student need factor in ECS from eligibility for Free and Reduced-Price Lunch to students eligible for HUSKY A medical benefits and lowers the student need multiplier in the formula from 30% to 20% in order to restrain district funding. [Note that undocumented immigrants are not eligible for HUSKY A medical benefits and that the Governor is also proposing to reduce eligibility for HUSKY A parents to 138% of poverty. About 9,500 parents will lose Medicaid under this proposal.] Student need should not be restricted to one proxy formula element but should represent the broad diversity of student needs in our state.

 

Zeroes out or reduces Special Education reimbursements to many municipalities/school districts and bases the 0 -54% reimbursement amount on a 5-year average of district Excess Cost reimbursements, not actual costs.

 

Imposes a new Teacher Retirement contribution mandate on all municipalities, regardless of wealth, equal to 1/3 of their teacher retirement costs. This new mandate is expected to cost municipalities $408 million in FY 18 and will increase every year thereafter. The Teachers’ Retirement System is a statutory construct outside of municipal/school district control. It is managed and controlled by the State.

 

The Governor’s education funding proposals will lower the State’s share of K-12 public education costs and increase the overreliance on the regressive local property tax to fund education.

Malloy’s proposal will lead to dramatic cuts in education programs and increased property taxes on the state’s middle income and working families – all while he continues his policy of coddling the rich.

The question now is whether the members of the Connecticut General Assembly will turn their backs on their constituents and do Malloy’s bidding or stand up to the bully and rewrite His proposed state budget.

Breaking – Malloy proposes half-baked scheme to reform education funding

Rather than address the fact that the State of Connecticut underfunds it public schools by almost $2 billion a year and the state should dramatically increase its level of support for public schools in the state, Governor Dannel Malloy went to New Britain today to announce a sham proposal that will further exacerbate Connecticut’s failed school funding policies.

Malloy’s proposal does little more than redirect a relatively small amount of existing funds from wealthier and middle income towns to Connecticut’s poorest communities.  The amount of money won’t have a profound impact for poor towns, but it will certainly ensure major cuts to local schools in a large number of towns and lead to significantly higher property taxes in the majority of Connecticut’s communities.

At the same time, in a truly outrageous maneuver, Malloy is proposing allowing those towns that received a cut in aid to reduce their minimum expenditure requirements, thereby literally lowering education quality in the majority of Connecticut’s towns.

As the CT Mirror explains;

The new pool of money – for educating physically or developmentally disabled students – would be funded almost entirely by redirecting nearly one-quarter of the $2 billion in state dollars that currently go toward the ECS grant and all of the so-called Excess Cost grant, which helps school districts pay for services for severely disabled students.

The CT Mirror added;

To accomplish the goal of redirecting education dollars to the districts most in need, Malloy would change how the state measures poverty in schools

Malloy would replace it with the number of participants in Husky A, health care provided through Medicaid.

[…]

“The concern is that you would underestimate poverty,” Daniel Long, the research director for Connecticut Voices for Children.”

As one representative for communities told CT Newsjunkie;

“The governor’s proposed changes to ECS and special education funding, coupled with his proposal to require towns to pick up one-third of the cost of teacher pension costs, will make it impossible for small towns to fund education without staggering increases in local property taxes,” said Betsy Gara, Executive Director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns. “This proposal will divert resources away from our smaller communities in a way that spells absolute disaster for our local property taxpayers.”

You can read more about this breaking story via the following links;

CT Mirror – Malloy proposes shaking up state education aid

CT Newjunkie – Malloy Will Pitch Changes To Education Formula

Governor Malloy’s Press Release on the issue can be found here  – Gov. Malloy’s Proposed Budget Provides a Fairer Distribution of Education Aid, Allocates Additional $10 Million for Special Education

 

Time to explore a new property tax system for Connecticut

In an important step forward, CT Voices for Children, a Connecticut based non-profit research institute, recently proposed a plan to reform Connecticut’s outdated property tax system and replace it with one that will reduce the tax burden on middle-income and working families while ensuring all cities and towns have the resources they need to adequately fund Connecticut’s public schools.

Wait, What? readers will recall that Connecticut’s middle-income families pay about 10 percent of their income in state and local taxes, the poor about 12 percent and because the Connecticut tax structure coddles the rich, the state’s wealthiest residents only pay about 5.5 percent of their income in state and local taxes.

The new Connecticut Voices proposal would correct those inequities and provide real property tax relief for 2.7 million residents living in 117 of Connecticut’s 169 communities.  At the same time the program would require wealthier residents to start paying their fair share in state and local taxes.

The underlying problem is that Connecticut underfunds its schools by close to $2 billion a year leaving the state’s public schools without the resources they need to provide every child with their constitutionally guaranteed access to a quality education.

The existing system also unfairly burdens the vast majority of local taxpayers.

In an historic effort to address this problem, Connecticut Voices for Children’s proposal would reform Connecticut’s property tax system as follows;

Thriving communities are made possible by good schools, roads, and other public systems. To support these building blocks of local economies, Connecticut’s cities and towns need a stable revenue source that generates needed resources without placing an unfair load onto taxpayers.

Currently, the property tax does the opposite. Connecticut’s property tax system makes residents in poor communities pay more, stifles economic development, and exacerbates racial inequalities. At the same time, because local school funding is so dependent on local property taxes, disparities in property wealth lead to disparities in opportunities for children.

We explore a partial solution to this problem: a system in which communities that tax themselves equally for education receive equal per-pupil funding for education. Our model would cut taxes for 2.7 million residents in 117 cities and towns while maintaining local control and education funding levels.

The report is based on Vermont´s adjusted statewide property tax system, with the following key features:

Gives 2.7 million residents an average tax break of about $400 per person.

Fully funds the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program, alleviating inequities in communities where concentrations of government, university, and hospital property have eroded the tax base.

Reduces disparities in property tax rates and thus reduce incentives for business to relocate from communities with the highest property tax rates to nearby communities with lower ones.

Consistent with tradition of local control, communities willing to tax themselves more to spend more on education are allowed to do so.

Consistent with tradition of taxing property to fund education.

To read the full report and for more background go to: Equal Funding for Equal Effort: A Proposal to Reform Property Tax Funding for Local Education in Connecticut

Connecticut – Beware the charter school industry’s proposed new school funding scheme

The charter school front groups, ConnCAN and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, with the help of the Connecticut School Finance Project, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) – the latter two groups which are funded through local school budgets and are supposed to be advocating for public schools – have proposed a set of principles for a new school funding formula for Connecticut that will undermine the state’s public school districts and drain local municipal budgets.

The new pro-charter school plan is based on the school funding formula in Rhode Island and it is a classic “Money Follows the Child” system that would mean that, in addition to collecting about $110 million a year from the State of Connecticut, the state’s privately owned and operated Charter Schools would grab an additional $40-$50 million a year in public funds from the local schools in Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, Stamford, Hamden, Norwich and Manchester.

The operative language in the new charter school sponsored formula reads;

“A combination of state and local funds should be allocated to schools of choice on a per student basis, so that the total per-pupil funding for these students will go to the schools or districts of choice.”

This public money “follows the child” plan is particularly appalling and inappropriate because charter schools are not accountable to elected local board of education.  Local school districts have no say in whether charter schools are created, where they are located, which children they educate or refuse to educate, nor do local boards of education have control over any other charter school policy or practice.

The operative question is why should local taxpayers pay for a school that is utterly unaccountable to the local community?

In addition, Connecticut’s charter schools are notorious for discriminating against Latino students, students who require additional help learning the English language, children who need special education services and those who display disciplinary problems.

Furthermore, charter schools in Connecticut do not face the same costs as public schools since,  among other things, they refuse to allow educators to unionize and in most cases only half the teachers (or even fewer) have been certified under Connecticut’s strict teacher preparation programs.

The truth is that Connecticut charter schools also DO NOT pay for transporting students to or from their school nor do they pay for any special education costs associated with their students – those costs are already picked up by the local school districts.

Although pro-charter school Governor Malloy will undoubtedly use this plan as his proposed formula when he announces his school funding plan next month, the plan is bad for Connecticut’s students, parents, educators, public schools and taxpayers.

His efforts to privatize public education in Connecticut know no bounds and the charter school industry’s newest proposal is simply a stunning money grab from school districts that are already massively underfunded.

A cost study conducted in 2005 found that Connecticut was underfunding its schools by approximately $2 billion a year, leaving schools without the resources they need to close the achievement gap and help all students succeed.  A new cost study – which is sorely needed and which the school funding advocates (CCJEF) are calling for —one done to reflect current costs, taking into account all our new mandates and standards,  and current student demographics and need – will undoubtedly show a similar if not even larger gap in state funding.

This incredible pro-charter school funding proposal would make the situation even worse for Connecticut’s urban districts.

The plan is being put forward by:
CT Association of Boards of Education (CABE)
CT Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS)
CT Association of Schools (CAS)
CT Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN)
CT Council for Education Reform (CCER)

Finally, the reality that CABE and CAPSS are joining the charter school industry in promoting such a disastrous funding plan is a disturbing indictment of their failure to represent the citizens of Connecticut and a gross violation of their mission, purpose and nonprofit status.  Compounding their dereliction of duty is the fact that these two groups are part of the CCJEF coalition yet their scheme harms the very children, parents, public and schools and poorer towns and cities that CCJEF has been fighting so hard and so long to help.

For more about how charter schools are seeking to undermine Connecticut’s public schools read, Draining dollars from our students by Wendy Lecker

In her column, Wendy Lecker wrote;

Compounding the damage to public school funding, Malloy’s allies intend to “reform” Connecticut’s school funding formula to drain more public dollars from public schools — toward privately run charter schools.

As the Malloy administration recently acknowledged, district public schools are the vehicle the state chose to discharge its constitutional responsibility to educate children. Although the state must ensure adequate funding, in reality the state and municipalities share the financial burden. State education funding never covers the full cost of education. The state provides a portion and the local municipality fills in the rest, with the federal government contributing a small amount. When the state fails to pay its fair share, municipalities must to make up the gap.

Successful school funding reforms start with an analysis of what it costs to educate children. Once the cost is determined, states find they must increase school spending. Those increases have been proven to improve educational and life outcomes, especially for poor children.

To begin serious reform, Connecticut must assess what it costs today to bring an adequate education within the reach of all students.

However, Malloy’s charter allies do not want to discuss the cost of education. Their agenda is simply to get the legislature to include charter schools in any new school funding formula. Why? So local districts would be required to fund charters from local budgets.

State charter schools are considered independent districts. Local districts do not receive state allocations for students attending charter schools nor are they required pay the local contribution for children in charter schools. The host district has no say over the charter schools located within its borders. State law does require local school districts to pay for transportation and special education costs for children attending charter schools. Aside from that, charters are funded by state allocations, federal funds and private donations.

Charters are not funded like district public schools because they differ from public schools. They are statutorily created and can be discontinued anytime. They need not serve all grade levels nor provide the same services as public schools, and do not have to hire certified teachers. They are also exempt from other state mandates and accountability.

The charter lobby’s proposal would require local districts to pay for any costs for charters not covered by the state. Local taxpayers would now pay for charters like they pay for their own schools; without having any voice in charter schools and without charters following the same rules as public schools. As the state decides to expand charters, more local dollars will be drained from public schools toward these independent schools. In Rhode Island, where this system exists, districts lose tens of millions of dollars annually to charters.

Draining more money from impoverished school districts will not improve education for Connecticut’s neediest children. If our leaders are serious about school funding reform, they must start with assessing the true cost of providing every child with an adequate education. Only then can we have an honest discussion about how we can serve the educational needs of all our children.

Robert Cotto Jr. – Disciplining Connecticut’s Schools: A critique of the Judge’s Decision on the CCJEF Education Funding Case

Disciplining Connecticut’s Schools: A critique of the Judge’s Decision on the CCJEF Education Funding Case – by Robert Cotto Jr. – 

“If the emperor was a weak man, the sight of his mark would evoke laughter and contempt, but if he was a stern and powerful ruler, his mark would instill fear and obedience.”

The Lords of Discipline, Pat Conroy, p. 213.

In the book Lords of Discipline, based on the Citadel military college, the general offered his cadets words of advice at their ring ceremony: be the powerful ruler that instills obedience and fear, otherwise suffer defeat. When I first read the judge’s decision in the CCJEF v. Rell school funding case, it struck me as similarly militaristic. Judge Moukawsher, a lawyer and graduate of the Citadel military college, ruled that his problem with Connecticut public education was an issue of discipline, not necessarily a lack of resources. Rather than declaring a war on inequality or inadequacy, the judge declared war on a “slack system”. While news accounts called the judge’s decision an “overhaul”, the ruling was more of a directive to continue public education’s most regressive tendencies.

The valiant CCJEF argument against the State relied on a common-sense idea: every child has a right to a rich, well-rounded education for all children that is adequately funded by the State. Advocates and parents in towns and cities brought the case forward as a Constitutional challenge more than a decade ago believing that public education was inadequately funded, particularly in less wealthy towns and cities. Past court cases, such as the Horton case, argued that Connecticut’s method of funding schools mainly through local property taxes was unfair to towns and cities with a limited ability to pay for public schools. The CCJEF case made a different argument.

There were three parts of the CCJEF argument. First, Connecticut has broad goals for public education such as ensuring that kids become productive members of society and engaged citizens. Second, the State needs to provide adequate or enough funding to accomplish those goals. Third, funding must be equitably distributed, or the funds needed to reach those goals might differ from town to town because students might require more or less help to reach the same goals depending on where they live and other characteristics like poverty, town wealth, language status, and racial identification.

The CCJEF plaintiffs acknowledged that Connecticut’s current method of funding schools was progressive, but inadequate and increasingly inequitable. Over the last thirty years, Connecticut supplemented local education funds from property taxes with State funds in order to create a progressive funding system. That system eventually became called the “Educational Cost Sharing” (ECS) grant and it has produced a certain degree of equity in educational funding. (e.g. Less wealthy towns get more State funding; wealthier towns get less State funding). But the State was underfunding that ECS fund and increasingly favoring wealthier towns by never taking away funds. In some cases, wealthier towns got even more funding as poorer districts lost state funds, a point made painfully clear by the judge.

As a fight for resources towards these broad goals, the CCJEF paralleled past fights for the educational rights of Black and Latinx children, children living in poverty, bilingual children, as well as children with disabilities. However, these civil rights battles also included claims for greater control over the resources and type of education provided to Black and Latinx students. The CCJEF plaintfiffs, the State, nor the judge deliberated these issues.

Still, after years of hearings and testimony that documented public schools without sufficient resources (and funding) to provide an education worth its name, the CCJEF finally had its days in court over the last year. This year’s legislative session might also feature some response to the judge’s orders.

Watch a video version of this lecture here.

Contrary to the argument presented by the CCJEF plaintiffs, the judge found that Connecticut already, “spends more than the bare minimum on schools” (Moukawsher, 2016, p.23). The judge dismissed evidence from teachers and parents that their schools lacked adequate resources as “anecdotal” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 24). According to the judge’s reading of the law, as long as public school students got classrooms with desks, chairs, air to breathe, a teacher, textbooks, and a curriculum, the State had fulfilled most of its obligation to provide an equal educational opportunity. He concluded that, “there is no proof of a statewide problem caused by the state sending school district too little money” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 24). The CCJEF plaintiffs lost this major part of their argument. At that point, the judge could have stopped his ruling, but he went further.

Going further than the initial lawsuit required, the Judge redefined an adequate education to mean one that could be measured through “objective” tests in elementary and high school. When all kids passed standardized tests that would mean that there was a rational and adequate education. And if kids did not pass the tests, then they should not be able to just “pass” to the next grade. To that end, the judge ordered the State and its subordinates to “define” education by using “exit exams” for students to leave the 3rd, 8th, and 12th grade. Here, the battle turned against the plaintiffs. The judge outflanked the plaintiffs by conflating standardized testing with equal educational opportunity.

For the judge, the State spent enough money on schools, but the State failed to compel everybody to implement the basic goals of education: kids passing basic reading and math tests. He stated his reasoning here:

…the state must propose a definition of what it means to have an elementary school education that is rationally and primarily related to developing basic literacy and numeracy skills needed for secondary school. No definition without force behind it can be rational, especially since the state would already say that is has amply laid out what elementary schools should achieve by adopting common core standards. Here the difference between a definition and a constitutionally adequate definition is that the former may have no real consequence while the latter requires substantial consequences. (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 59-60)

For the judge, third grade and high school students in the State’s resource-poor cities could not read at the “basic” level because their basic training had failed. Education, like the military, requires authorities to provide orders to their subordinates, who must follow. Although the state already has content standards and standardized tests connected to graduation requirements, teacher evaluations, school ratings, and so on, the judge believed that these tools were not wielded with sufficient authority and discipline by the State. If kids were not passing basic standardized tests, then somebody must suffer negative consequences. As the judge stated, “There is no room for a slack system to support cities like Bridgeport” (Moukawsher, 2016, 37). Poor student test results must mean somebody is slacking off and should be removed, fired, or dismissed. For the court, the educational system would only be rational and adequate when the State removed the weakest links, or the people and funding that don’t raise test results. This sweeping social analysis of Connecticut’s education system came as a surprise to those that have experienced the blunt force of the No Child Left Behind Act or Race to The Top, or other educational reforms that do, in fact, target various people to punish.

This vision for an educational system was Spartan and contradictory. It hinged on ranking kids, teachers, schools, and districts, then removing the weakest links. In the case of special education, the judge argued that, “school officials never consider the possibility that the education appropriate for some students may be extremely limited because they are too profoundly disabled to get any benefit from elementary or secondary school education” (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 76). Presumably, money could be saved by cutting services for these students with disabilities to save the funds for the kids that “can learn”.

Somebody should be punished when “objective” tests showed that kids could not read at basic level. Only when kids passed tests and moved onto the next grade or graduation, then they could be said to have an “adequate” education. If they didn’t pass, then they couldn’t move forward. Showing a misunderstanding of standardized test results, the judge did not see much value in measures in which everybody could pass. He stated, “An inflated teacher evaluation system, like a graduation or graduation system where everyone succeeds, is virtually useless (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 63).” Useful tests and standards rate people and some people must fail by design. But the judge did not take up the question of what happens when kids and adults are punished for never passing tests and evaluations that fail people by design. As Wendy Lecker and other lawyers suggested, this ruling emboldened past and current corporate education reform initiatives. Rather than an overhaul of education, the judge ordered schools to escalate their most regressive tendencies such as testing, sorting people, removing “weak” links, and punishing non-conformists.

In terms of educational leadership, the judge wanted public schools to be more “tightly coupled”. In other words, schools must pick a goal, measure the goal, meet the goal or suffer consequences. It either did not matter or did not occur to the judge that schools might require “loose coupling”, or a set of broad goals implemented with a different type of leadership and management given the complexity of American schooling (Weick, 1976; Meyer and Rowan, 1977).

A positive aspect of the judge’s order for the plaintiffs was that it allowed the State to provide more funding for schools if schools wished to provide these opportunities, but it was not required to spend any more because it was already funding the bare minimum it needed. Redistribution of state funds was also possible, but not required under this ruling. Sadly, the things we find help kids in schools such as support professionals, arts, music, health, computers, recess, and fun were just irrational “extras” for this judge (Moukawsher, 2016, p. 40). Rich districts might be able to offer these opportunities through their own local funding, but the State is not required to fund these opportunities in middle and working class schools where the majority of Black and Latinx students reside.

To be sure, the judge acknowledged that economic status, targeted school funding, and other factors can influence academic success. Connecticut only needed to make a funding formula, connect it to test results and evaluations, then stick to it and deliver punishments for not complying and performing.  By radically redefining adequacy to “rational” discipline as measured by test scores, the ruling was a regressive departure from the idea of a rich, well-rounded public education for children, particularly for Black, Latinx, and children of all ethnic groups living in poverty.

With his Citadel ring on his finger as he read the ruling from the bench, the Judge told the State of Connecticut, be the stern and powerful school emperor that instills fear and obedience through tests and punishments. Only that would be a “rational, substantial, and verifiable” public education, even if it’s not adequately or equitably funded by the State.

Note: The State of Connecticut (defendants) and CCJEF (plaintiffs) have appealed the decisions and the Supreme Court has allowed that appeal to move forward.

You can read and comment on Robert Cotto Jr’s commentary piece at: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2017/01/02/disciplining-connecticuts-schools/

You can see Robert Cotto’s lecture on the topic at: https://vimeo.com/184936476

 

Breaking News – In unprecedented maneuver, Malloy cuts $20 million in school aid in the middle of the fiscal year

As if it wasn’t bad enough that Connecticut already underfunds its public schools, under the effective darkness of the holiday week, Governor Dannel Malloy’s administration announced today that he is slashing $20 million from Connecticut’s Education Funding (ECS) Formula.

As testimony in the CCJEF v. Rell school funding lawsuit made clear earlier this year, Connecticut’s utter failure to properly fund its public schools is hurting Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and schools.  The lack of appropriate state aid for education also unfairly shifts the tax burden onto Connecticut’s local property taxpayers … a move that disproportionately hurts Connecticut’s middle income families.

But now Malloy is making the situation even worse by cutting state aid for education to Connecticut’s cities and towns right in the middle of the school year, a tactic that will leave communities on the hook for making emergency cuts to programs or trying to come up with alternative revenue to maintain existing programs that are designed to benefit Connecticut’s public school students.

It was only a few weeks ago that Malloy and his operatives were intentionally misleading Connecticut voters by claiming that the state budget was balanced when a growing deficit was actually taking shape.

Now, rather than target wasteful spending, Malloy is aiming his budget ax directly at some of the state’s most important and vulnerable citizens.

By dumping his fiscal problems on local property taxpayers, Malloy continues his warped approach of coddling the rich at the expense of everyone else.

In addition, Malloy’s state department of education announced earlier this week that it is seeking proposals to fund even more charter schools, a strategy that will divert even more scarce funds away from public schools and to the private sector.

Check back for more on this breaking story in the days ahead.

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.

Education advocates and experts Wendy Lecker and Robert Cotto Jr. discuss Historic CCJEF lawsuit

With the final arguments now completed in the school funding case of CCJEF v. Rell, the judge has five months’ worth of testimony to use when making the critically important decision about whether Connecticut’s school funding formula is unconstitutional.

While the parties will undoubtedly appeal the decision to the Connecticut Supreme Court, this case is the pivotal step to force the state of Connecticut to adopt a state education cost sharing formula that ensures that all Connecticut children have access to a quality education.

Click on the video for a 15 minute wrap up of the key issues of the case by education advocates Wendy Lecker and Robert Cotto Jr.

https://youtu.be/kPosbOwofxE

Additional media coverage can be found at:

Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) vs Malloy (and Rell) (Wait, what?)

As Decade-Old Lawsuit Winds Down, Plaintiffs Say Education Is Path to Cure (WNPR)

Lawsuit alleges disparity in school funding (CT Post)

In Closing Arguments, State Acknowledges Challenges But Defends School Financing System (Courant)

CT school funding on trial: 5 key questions facing the judge (CT Mirror)

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/