Update on the most important Connecticut school funding lawsuit in modern times…

Starting this year and next, Connecticut public school teachers will be judged, in no small part, by factors beyond their control such as their student’s standardized test results.  Some will lose their jobs after two years under Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill. 

But as reported in yesterday’s CT Mirror, “The state’s top attorneys Monday asked a Superior Court judge to dismiss the [CCJEF v. Rell] case and give the education reforms passed by the legislature last year “at least three years” to be implemented.”

Attorney General George Jepsen, with the support of Governor Malloy, moved to destroy the most important school funding case in more than half a century, despite Malloy’s earlier promises to support the case.

And the media coverage of this extraordinary event?

Ah… minimal, at best. As of 7 a.m. on the day after the court hearing:

The Hartford Courant had reported – Nothing.

The CT Mirror has a story entitled, “Malloy’s school reforms may be headed for trial,Ken Dixon, a reporter for the Connecticut Post and Hearst Media wrote, Court hears case for, against dismissal,” and the CT Newsjunkie ran “Education Adequacy Case Headed Back To Courtlast week.

As the CT Mirror reported, “The Connecticut Supreme Court in 2010 ruled that every child is entitled to an “adequate” education, and sent the case back to the lower court to determine if the state is providing that.”

As mayor of Stamford and candidate for governor, Dan Malloy not only supported the case but was listed as a plaintiff with the CCJEF, the organization which brought the suit against Governor Rell as a way to force the state of Connecticut to face its historic underfunding of public schools in Connecticut.

Now with this extraordinarily important trial scheduled to start in July 2014, four months before the next gubernatorial election, Governor Malloy and Attorney General George Jepsen are trying to get the case dismissed by claiming that Malloy’s “education reforms” do away with the need to deal with the fact that Connecticut underfunds its public schools by as much as $2 billion.

As Ken Dixon explains in his Connecticut Post Story,

“The [CCJEF] coalition is suing to get more aid for struggling schools in Connecticut’s cities, and for a new formula of support that takes municipal wealth into account and shifts the burden of public education from local property taxes. The current system, plaintiffs say, penalizes cities such as Bridgeport that have limited taxable real estate in relation to the needs of their schools.”

Dixon adds that “After the hearing, Dianne Kaplan deVries, project director for the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, said that drastically changing the system for local school funding is important.

‘With political will seemingly always lagging, the only way those resources are going to be made available is for this lawsuit to succeed,’ she said.

Thus, ironically, the state seems to not understand that for the state of Connecticut to win — as well as its school children, communities, colleges, and employers — the state needs to lose this case.’”

As noted repeatedly here at Wait, What? for years Malloy claimed to be a strong supporter of the lawsuit but he suddenly switched his position following the last gubernatorial election.

Starting last year, Attorney General George Jepsen began a more aggressive effort to undermine the suit.  With Malloy’s support, Jepsen first moved to try to remove early childhood education from the issues to be covered by the lawsuit and is now he is trying to get the whole case dismissed.

In response to criticisms that Malloy has failed to fulfill his promise on school funding and the CCJEF v. Rell case, his spokesman said, “Through additional funding and reforms in the bill he championed last year, we’re making great strides in improvements to public education.”

Of course, the Malloy administration’s political spin completely overlooks the reality that an extra $50 million a year, funds that are primarily targeted to selected schools, doesn’t begin to resolve the $750 million to $2 billion underfunding problem that leaves Connecticut’s public schools underfunded and disproportionately shifts an unfair burden to local property taxpayers.

You can read more background on the case in the following two Wait, What? blog posts:

The CCJEF v. Rell School Funding Case: The incredible transformation of Malloy and Jepsen

Today, as explained in a Wait, What? blog post last Friday, Attorney General George Jepsen, with the help and support of Governor Dannel Malloy, is asking a Connecticut Superior Court judge to dismiss the most important school finance lawsuit in nearly five decades.  As noted in that blog, the case, CCJEF v. Rell, may well be the most important school finance lawsuit in Connecticut history.

Friday’s post, entitled “Jepsen/Malloy move to destroy most important school funding lawsuit in modern times,” points out that once upon a time, when Governor Dannel Malloy was Mayor Dan Malloy of Stamford, he not only supported the CCJEF v. Rell lawsuit but was an original plaintiff in the historic battle to force the State of Connecticut to fulfill its constitutional obligation to the children of Connecticut.

As a candidate for governor, Malloy repeatedly proclaimed that he would implement a solution to Connecticut’s school finance crisis and end the need for the CCJEF v. Rell case.

But now with Malloy’s support, Connecticut’s attorney general is trying to dismiss this important case altogether.

Governor Malloy and Attorney General Jepsen have the opportunity of a lifetime to put Connecticut’s school funding system on track, not only for this generation, but for generations to come.   Instead of rising to the occasion, they are squandering the opportunity to make a profound difference for Connecticut and its children.

To understand the depth of their failure on this vital issue, read some of the previous Wait, What? blogs on this topic;

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

Despite having promised their support for the lawsuit, they are now not only trying to get the case dismissed, but are asking the court to prevent the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF], a broad coalition of towns, schools, parents and public school advocates, from even serving as the plaintiffs in the case.

They are taking this unholy action despite the fact that the Connecticut Supreme Court ordered the lower court to hear the case.

And perhaps worst of all, this destructive action is being perpetrated by people who not only said they supported the lawsuit, but used that support to deceive the people of Connecticut into voting for them.

Dan Malloy and the education lawsuit of our lifetime;

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

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

Sometimes you’re just left shaking your head; wondering what on earth has happened to our “Leaders.”

A few months ago, Attorney General George Jepsen, with the direct approval of Governor Dannel Malloy, filed a legal motion in an attempt to ensure that Early Childhood Education was not included in the definition of what the Connecticut Supreme Court called the “adequate education” that is guaranteed in the Connecticut Constitution.

Now, Attorney General Jepsen has filed an unprecedented subpoena seeking tens of thousands of pages of documents belonging to ten of the school districts that brought the now-famous CCJEF vs. Rell lawsuit that led the Supreme Court to define what an “adequate education” meant. Continue reading “The CCJEF v. Rell School Funding Case: The incredible transformation of Malloy and Jepsen”

Warning! Warning! Alliance Districts Beware:

Tomorrow, Connecticut’s poorest and most challenged school districts must submit their “Year 2 Alliance District Plans” to Commissioner Stefan Pryor and his loyal band of education reformers.

If you are a student, parent, teacher or administrator in one of the following towns…you should be worried….very worried.

The towns include: Ansonia, Bloomfield, Bridgeport, Bristol, Danbury, Derby, East Hartford, East Haven, East Windsor, Hartford, Hamden, Killingly, Manchester, Middletown, Meriden, Naugatuck, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Norwalk, Norwich, Putnam, Stamford, Vernon, Waterbury, West Haven, Windham, Winchester, Windsor and Windsor Locks.

Your legislators will tell you that despite the budget crisis, they were able to increase your level of school funding this year, thereby helping create better schools without dumping the entire burden on local taxpayers.

What they haven’t told you is the money is dependent on the approval of Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, the long-time charter school advocate.

Once the plans are submitted, Pryor and his team will review the plans and determine whether they meet his “rubric” for “school change.” He and his team will then decide whether your town will get the additional education funding that was recently approved by the Connecticut General Assembly.

If he doesn’t approve the plan, your town doesn’t get the money.  And rumor has it, in at least one case, the town won’t get the money unless they hire Achievement First to train local administrators….Achievement First being the charter school management company that Pryor co-founded.

And as every parent, teacher and administrator knows, if the money doesn’t move, additional program cuts will be forthcoming in those towns.

Worse, Pryor and his entourage have let go the very people within the Department of Education who actually know what these Alliance Districts need help with.

Last year, Alliance District Plans were primarily reviewed and handled by the Department of Education’s technical assistance operation, a group of seven Connecticut-trained Leaders in Residence and former superintendents who have spent the last six or seven years helping districts develop locally appropriate action plans.

But despite their extraordinary experience and dedication, those seven key staff people were let go by Malloy’s Commissioner this month and replaced by out-of-state consulting firm, Mass Insight,  that are charging $965,000…hundreds of thousands more than the seven experts were being paid. 

Gone are the seven experts and their combined 250 years of experience working directly with local superintendents, principals, teachers and other administrators.

Instead the fate of funding for Connecticut’s neediest school districts rests with a group of consultants who have no meaningful experience with Connecticut’s communities.

Even more troubling and incredible, some Alliance School Districts are learning that in addition to the out-of-state consultants, Pryor has assigned some of his interns to review and rate the Alliance plans.

The very fate of our communities are being decided by consultants and interns with little to no Connecticut experience.

This absurd, inappropriate, unfair and dysfunctional operation is being headed by one of Pryor’s new out-of-state managers, Debra Kurshan, who joined the State Department of Education after a working for a charter school management organization, consulting for the New Orleans School Recovery District  and helping to close public schools in New York City.

To make matters even worse, while the consulting contract with Mass Insight is only 90 days old, one of their most senior consultants has already left, only to be replaced with someone with even less experience.

If local taxpayers in the Alliance towns only knew how they were being played, they’d demand that their elected officials head back to Hartford and make major changes to this unjust and irresponsible process.

Instead, the Pryor operation will continue to play games with our students, parents, teachers, administrators and taxpayers of Connecticut.

But at least the out-of-state consulting company will walk away with almost a million dollars in taxpayer funds, so someone out there must be pretty happy.

Mayor Bill Finch asks – Wait, What? Connecticut’s School Funding Laws Apply to Us?

Connecticut’s Education Cost Sharing Formula:

“Three requirements apply to towns receiving state ECS grants. The first is that they spend their entire ECS grant for education. The second is that they not use an increase in their ECS grant in any year to supplant local funding for education (the nonsupplant requirement). The third is the MBR. The MBR requires towns to budget at least a minimum amount for education in each fiscal year.” (Office of Legislative Research)

According to a recent story in the CT Post, when Mayor Finch met with the Connecticut Post’s editorial board he “criticized the state’s minimum budget requirement” saying;

“Why is there an MBR? The assumption is the only way you can get my kids to have a better education is just keep pouring more money on it…Doesn’t really matter how you spend it, it’s just got to go up every year. It can never go down. That’s the craziest thing I ever heard.”

Recall Connecticut’s Education Funding Formula is approximately $2 billion under-funded and the Minimum Budget Requirement is designed to ensure that towns provide at least a minimum level of funding for local education.  At last check, Bridgeport funded the smallest percentage in the state.

Meanwhile, although “Superintendent of Schools,” Paul Vallas, has failed to fulfill the legal requirement of getting the local Board of Education to review and adopt a school budget in a timely fashion, Vallas recently provided the Bridgeport Board of Education with a $231.8 million school budget that included a $4.2 million increase in ECS funding from the state and a $3.2 million increase from the City of Bridgeport.

The $3.2 million increase is what is required under Connecticut’s Minimum Budget Requirement law.

When the concept of Alliance Districts was created in Malloy’s “education reform” bill last year, the Minimum Budget Requirement law was modified to require that an Alliance District municipality must allocate what they appropriated the previous year AND, in no case, can their contribution fail to “meet minimum local education funding percentages of 20% for FY 13, 21% for FY 14, 22% for FY 15, 23% for FY 16, and 24% for FY 17.” (PA 12-1, June 12 Special Session, §§ 287 & 288)

As confirmed by the State Department of Education, that means Mayor Bill Finch must provide an additional $3.2 million in next year’s budget.

So how did Finch respond?

See the recent blog post of CT Post reporter Brian Lockhart who wrote;

“Following his meeting with East Side community leaders Wednesday night I attempted to ask Finch to explain his administration’s position on the $3.2 million.

As usual his spokesman (and former Connecticut Post employee) Elaine Ficarra was at his side.

Finch is perfectly able to field a reporter’s questions, and he should be well-versed on this school funding issue because it’s been around for about a year.

But the mayor’s staff prefer the questions be posed to Ficarra and the answers come through her as well. It’s message-management 101.

I asked the mayor to explain his rationale for not providing the extra $3.2 million to the Board of Education.

“Well, we’re formulating an answer for you. We’ll probably get it to you tomorrow (Thursday),” Finch said.

I pressed, since it’s what I get paid to do.

“Okay,” I said. “But tell me – just give me your initial understanding…”

At which point Ficarra – as she gets paid to do – interrupted, “No, I think he gave you the answer. He gave you the answer, Brian. That’s it. He gave you the answer. C’mon.”

So would they get me a comment Thursday?

“It looks like, yeah,” Finch said.

“We’ll get back to you,”  Ficarra said.

I wasn’t reassured.

“Well, I need something tomorrow (Thursday),” I said.

“That’s good. That’s your schedule. We’ll get back to you,” Ficarra said, adding: “No. No. No. You’re not going to put him on the spot over here, Brian, to talk about it, okay?”

At which point the mayor chimed in, “Actually, we’ll get back to you when we want to.”

After our exchange I emailed Ficarra later Wednesday with my specific questions about the $3.2 million, why the mayor kept it out of his budget, whether the administration was negotiating with state officials on the matter, and what happens if any talks fail?

On Thursday Finch’s answer arrived via Ficarra in a very short email: “We are incredibly focused on this issue and we are working diligently to resolve it. In the end, we hope to be as effective as we were in 2012 in working with the state to close the Board of Education’s multimillion dollar deficit.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headline: Report: Funding helps low-performing school districts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MY REPLY

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

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

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

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

Beware of the DPI: District Performance Index:

Forget the “Fiscal Cliff,” Governor Malloy and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor are hell-bent on forcing Connecticut to utilize something called a District Performance Index (DPI) and worse, they want to use it to determine how much education funding each community will receive.

To put it bluntly, despite the fact that their concept is completely untested, their solution to education funding and property tax relief is to rely on how well children do on various standardized tests, such as the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT).

The initial creation of a District Performance Index (DPI) was hidden inside Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill. The Malloy administration’s argument at the time was that the concept was simply one of a number of mechanisms to measure and compare educational achievement.  Instead of using the federal government’s flawed “annual yearly progress” system, Malloy’s plan was to develop an alternative, but equally flawed, District Performance Index system.

However, if their latest gambit is allowed to go forward, a community’s “District Performance Index” will have a major impact on local property taxes and could cost property tax payers more than any piece of legislation that has passed the Connecticut General Assembly in the last 25 years.

Think of it this way. Your taxes will go up depending on how well your community’s children do on some expensive set of standardized tests, tests that don’t even reflect the particular curriculum or approach your local school district may be utilizing.

If your students do better, your town gets less state aid and you will face higher property taxes.

The worse your students do, the more the state might send, but along with any additional support will come a renewed effort to mandate how that money must be spent.

There are moments in life when you see that something terrible is about to happen. If you are extraordinarily lucky and quick, intervention can stave off disaster, but most of the time you’re left to watch in horror as the disaster plays out in front of your eyes.

A moment like that is opening up before us. Property tax rates, state aid for education and ensuring Connecticut’s children have access to an appropriate, high quality education rests on whether elected officials handle this proposed legislation correctly.

But the problem is that most legislators don’t have a clue what the District Performance Index is or how much damage could be done if it utilized as a means for distributing state education funding.

Most disturbing of all, failure to do the right thing will change the course of education in our state – and not for the better.

If it all sounds a bit dramatic…it is because the changes that this absurd proposal would have would be dramatic.

Try this…If you run into a state senator or state representative, in the next few days, ask them to explain the advantage or disadvantage of implementing a system that relies on something called a District Performance Index. And ask them to explain just how it works, how it’s calculated.  If they say anything other than – “I will never, ever support such a convoluted effort” – you know we’re in trouble.

As we all know, the factors that have the biggest impact on educational outcomes are poverty, language barriers and special education needs. Adequate funding is required to ensure that every child is provided the services and support they need to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to succeed.

The easiest way to explain Malloy’s District Performance Index proposal is that instead of weighting all of the key factors that impact the ability of Connecticut schools to help each child reach their potential, Malloy and his education commissioner want to use standardized test scores to create individualized numbers for every child, every grade, every school and every school district and then use that district’s number to determine which schools get more money and which schools get less.

While it would be convenient to have every student take a test and then say their scores explain which schools are good and which are bad, the reality is that there is no scientific evidence that such a simplistic approach reveals any useful information about whether an entire school or district should get more or less public money.

Yet Malloy and Pryor want to do exactly that.  As a result of their standardized test scores, each district, school and student would “acquire” a number between 0 and 100, where 100 would be “perfect.”

To get the score, the state would have every student take a series of standardized tests.

Connecticut already spends about $25 million to hire for-profit companies to create and score the CMT and the CAPT.

In addition to the CMT and CAPT, the District Performance Index would include the so-called Modified Assessment Test and apparently other tests that have yet to be defined or developed.

While standardized tests would be mandated in every grade level, the only subjects that would be used for the District Performance Index would be reading, writing, math, and science.  Although students would still be required to take other subjects, apparently the state feels that public funds should only be distributed based on how well or how poorly students do in just those selected topics.

In order to come up with the District Performance Index, and allocate the public funds, all the test results would be averaged so that a specific number could be developed for each school district, each school, each grade, and each child and for selected demographic sub-groups.

The state would begin by calculating an Individual Performance Index (IPI) for each student.

According to the State Department of Education, “if a child received a score that was at the goal level, they would receive a rating of 1.0. The proficient level would get them a .67, the basic level a .33 and below basic level wouldn’t get them any points. So a student who got a 1.0 in Reading, a .67 in Writing, a .33 in Science and a .67 in Math would end up with an Individual Performance Index of 67.

The Grade Performance Index would be based on averaging all of the students in that grade, while the School Performance Index would be calculated by averaging all scores for all of the students in the school.  Finally, the District Performance Index would be set by averaging all the scores for all the children in the District.

So there we are.  No more worrying about poverty or language barriers or special education services.  Instead, we shift Connecticut’s school funding system to one that is based on an arbitrary index which is created through a process that is devoid of scientific reasoning, but instead requires a total and complete dependence on how well students perform on standardized tests.

Meanwhile, to make things even more bizarre, we’ve already seen that the Malloy Administration is committed to taking over schools whose performance, which will soon be measured via this absurd District Performance Index, is below par.  They tried and failed to take over the Bridgeport schools, but succeeded in Windham and New London, where local citizens have now lost some of their most important rights of self-governance.

And when will this all happen?

It’s happening now.

In addition to facing a billion dollar projected budget deficit, when the legislature convenes in January, legislators are going to have to face Governor Malloy’s nonsensical proposal to corrupt Connecticut’s school funding system even further by inserting this District Performance Index debacle into the funding formula.

Washington Post runs Pelto/Lecker School Funding Commentary piece from Hartford Courant

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2012/11/25/how-grossly-underfunded-are-public-schools/

It is common to hear school reformers say that money isn’t a real issue in improving schools. Here’s a piece that says otherwise. It was written by Wendy Lecker, parent of three children in Stamford, Connecticut’s public schools, and Jonathan Pelto, a former member of the Connecticut House of Representatives who now provides commentary on politics and public policy at his blog,“Wait, What?” This appeared in the Hartford Courant.

By Wendy Lecker and Jonathan Pelto

“The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities just issued a report concluding that Connecticut’s public schools are grossly under-funded and calling for meaningful reform of Connecticut’s school funding system.

Pulling no punches, the report acknowledges that school finance reform cannot be done on the cheap and that significantly more funding is needed in order to provide all students with a quality education.

As the report declared, “the State should not sacrifice the futures of another generation of school children waiting for the courts to tell them — yet again — to meet its state constitutional funding responsibilities.”

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) estimates $763 million in underfunding, representing only the gap between current funding and fully funding the Education Cost Sharing formula as it stands now. However, that formula is flawed and does not reflect the true cost of education in Connecticut. In fact, as part of its recommendations, CCM calls for an “education adequacy cost study” to assess the actual cost of education, including all the factors affecting this cost. Doing so increases the number beyond $1 billion.

CCM’s clarity of vision derives from the experience of its members:  the municipalities that deal on a daily basis with escalating education costs and inadequate funding.  Because of the state’s underfunding of public schools, Connecticut’s cities and towns, especially its poorer communities, are forced to deprive their own schools of needed resources.

The result is that children and teachers must endure large classes, insufficient textbooks, computers and other learning tools, buildings in disrepair, slashing of teaching positions, and the elimination of programs and courses.

In Connecticut and around the country, courts have consistently ruled that underfunded schools amount to constitutional violations of children’s right to an education.

In New York, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Washington and many other states, courts have determined that there is “a causal connection between the poor performance of … students and the low funding provided their schools.“

Unlike the modern corporate education reformers, rather than vilify teachers and educational experts, courts value their firsthand knowledge of school conditions, their effects on learning, and the resources needed to give all students an equal opportunity to learn.

When shown evidence of conditions in actual schools, courts consistently find what CCM contends – without adequate funding, schools cannot provide an adequate education.”

The rest of the Washington Post column here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2012/11/25/how-grossly-underfunded-are-public-schools/

And you can find the original Hartford Courant piece here:  http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/hc-op-pelto-lecker-connecticut-schools-underfunded-20121123,0,6000165.story

Schools Woefully Underfunded, Formula Broken

Will Malloy rise to the occasion and make resolving Connecticut’s School Funding Crisis his legacy?

From today’s Hartford Courant Commentary by JONATHAN PELTO AND WENDY LECKER

http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/hc-op-pelto-lecker-connecticut-schools-underfunded-20121123,0,6000165.story

“Courts have been equally clear that when schools are given adequate resources, learning improves.

In New Jersey, Maryland, Colorado, Massachusetts and elsewhere, increased spending on basic educational resources led to demonstrated improved achievement.

Despite vast differences among states, courts enumerated a remarkably consistent list of educational necessities, including: high-quality preschool, small class size, additional services for at-risk students, supports for teachers such as professional development, curriculum supports, supplies, equipment, adequate facilities, and adequate books and other learning tools.

As Stamford’s mayor, Dannel P. Malloy understood the direct link between resources and achievement. He was a founding member of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, the plaintiff in Connecticut’s pending school funding lawsuit.

By joining the coalition’s lawsuit, then-Mayor Malloy acknowledged that the state cannot meet its duty to provide every child with a quality education without providing every school with the resources to meet each child’s needs.

Sadly, as governor, Malloy has not made resolving the lawsuit and properly funding education a true priority. Instead, his new “solutions” for education are privately run charter schools and teacher evaluations based on test scores.

Yet charter schools, serving 1 percent of Connecticut’s public school students, have dismal graduation rates and routinely exclude Latino students, English language learners and students with disabilities.

Furthermore, teacher evaluations based on standardized test scores have been proven to be wildly inaccurate and to massively increase the frequency of standardized tests children must take.

Instead of diverting funds to reforms that do not work, this governor has the historic opportunity to create a fair and equitable school funding system. Malloy’s legacy will rest on how he deals with the education-funding crisis highlighted in CCM’s report. More important, our children’s futures depend on it.”

To read the full piece go to:  http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/hc-op-pelto-lecker-connecticut-schools-underfunded-20121123,0,6000165.story

A word on behalf of our Public School Instructional Assistants

Every school day, the responsibility for making our schools healthier, safer and better places to learn falls just as heavily on public school instructional assistants as it does on public school teachers and public school administrators.

Regardless of whether they are Special Education IAs (providing vital services to one, two, three, four or more special education students) or Traditional IAs (helping teachers prepare and run classrooms so that all the students have the opportunity to learn), IAs are truly on the front line of enhancing educational opportunities for our children.

It is fair to say that the single most important step we could take to improve educational outcomes is to dramatically increase the number of trained and experienced IAs in our schools, especially where students need extra help, due to poverty, language barriers and special education needs.

And when we talk about improving public education, and the very real and increasing threat that is coming from the corporate “education reform” types, who want to layoff teachers, ban or reduce collective bargaining rights, take-over public schools and transfer the care and control of our public schools to various third parties…let’s not forget that many districts do not fund enough IA positions and every district fails to fairly compensate IAs for the incredible work they do.

In Connecticut, public school instructional assistants, (many of who have college degrees), are paid $11 to $14 per hour, for 6.5 hours of work a day, for 186 school days a year.  Add in the 8 paid holidays and subtract out their health insurance premium co-pay and the average IA salary earns in the range of about  $10,800 to $13,500 a year… a rate of pay that places them well below the poverty level.

A core member of the education team, caring for our children, helping them to learn, backing up our teachers and we pay them one-third to a one-half as much as we pay school bus drivers and far less than the pay any other education related employee..

As parents and public school advocates join teachers and their unions in this historic battle to ensure our public schools are run for the benefit of the public and not corporate America, we should be just as loud and clear that  our schools need far more IAs and that IAs deserve far better pay.

Next time you talk about the real difference between creating better schools and “education reform” be sure to add the part that schools need more IAs and IAs need better pay.

Footnote:  Many urban public schools have actually been reducing the number of instructional assistants.  For example, Paul Vallas and the illegal Board of Education in Bridgeport have decided to stop hiring IAs and remove them from the schools completely through the use of attrition.