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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

As Wendy Lecker explains;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confronting the Scheme to Gamble With Connecticut Special Education Funds by Robert Cotto Jr.

In a MUST READ commentary piece published in the CTNewsjunkie, Robert Cotto Jr. reviews the flawed special education proposal submitted by The Connecticut School Finance Project, a corporate education reform group that has apparently violated state law by illegally engaging in lobbying activities with Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration. (See: In violation of state lobbying laws, corporate education reform group develops Malloy’s disastrous special education funding proposal.)

Cotto begins by explaining,

As the state considers the risk of adding a new casino, Connecticut must beware of another plan to gamble with funds for students with disabilities. Based on its flawed analysis of special education, the plan could be a jackpot for profiteers and charter school entrepreneurs. We must stop this scheme and consider better alternatives.

[…]

Initially proposed by the Connecticut School Finance Project to help districts face the “ups” and “downs” of special education costs, the governor’s administration, as well as other education reformers, have now endorsed the plan. Yet, as Deborah Richards from the Capitol Region Education Council stated, “the primary issue is cost” of special education, not volatility.

Cotto adds;

If this plan sounds like a scam to you, then you are not alone. Special education advocate Dianne Willcutts, stated that it, “does not ensure that Districts will be in compliance” with special education law. Attorney Andrew Feinstein warned“this bill (SB 542) does nothing to help children with disabilities” and voiced concern that it would “actually harm children with disabilities.”

Even potential supporters were unsure. The Connecticut Association of Boards of Education called for more details. Others called the plan “unclear.” Two parents claimed this offers more equity, but shared only personal anecdotes.

So who benefits?

The State: By moving money around and adding some dollars in the first year, the administration will claim in public and court that it has an “innovative” method of funding special education.

Profiteers: The plan creates a “captive insurance company” to insure the state against future special education costs (e.g. Step 3). The fund would pay salaries and fees to manage the plan. Because captive insurance companies are often misused, the American Bar Association and U.S. Department of the Treasury have raised concerns and the FBI includes “captives” on the “Dirty Dozen” tax scam list.

Charter school entrepreneurs: One of the barriers to a school voucher system, supported by charter lobbyists, is that public districts must pay for all students, including those with disabilities. Per-pupil vouchers do not cover all costs.

With local and state funds, public-school districts pay special education costs for their own districts and at charter schools. This cost-sharing system makes it difficult to implement vouchers or similar plans (e.g. money follows child, weighted student funding, student-based budgeting).

You can read and comment on this vitally important article via – http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_confronting_the_scheme_to_gamble_with_connecticut_special_education_f/

In violation of state lobbying laws, corporate education reform group develops Malloy’s disastrous special education funding proposal

Among the many bad budget recommendations included in Governor Dannel Malloy state spending plan is a proposal that would leave Connecticut’s cities and towns without the resources they need to properly fund mandated programs for students who require special education services.

Now, according to documents acquired through a Freedom of Information request, Malloy’s absurd proposal, which undermines Connecticut’s special education program, was actually developed by a corporate education reform group. This in spite of the fact that the group failed to report that it had engaged in any administrative lobbying activities.

The entity in question is an off-shoot of the Connecticut Council on Education Reform (CCER), a corporate funded lobbying group that has been trying to divert scarce public resources to Connecticut’s charter schools, while lobbying on behalf of Malloy’s massive Common Core SBAC standardized testing debacle and his other corporate education reforms.

Last year, staff from CCER formed The Connecticut School Finance Project.

Following Governor Malloy’s recent proposal to create a Connecticut Special Education Cost Cooperative, a new bureaucratic structure designed to inappropriately control special education funding and services, The Connecticut School Finance Project prepared an “independent analysis examining these proposed changes and how they align with six key principles and practices all special education finance systems should follow.”

However, neither the Governor nor the lobbying group revealed that the proposal was actually developed by the Connecticut School Finance Project after months of close communication with the Malloy administration and their “independent analysis” was of a plan they actually wrote.

Worse, in an outright lie and in apparent violation of state law, the Connecticut School Finance Project reported to the State Ethics Commission that it didn’t spend any time or money engaged in communications with the Governor or his staff.

Yet documents that were recently turned over by the Office of Policy and Management tell a very different story and confirm that the Connecticut School Finance Project has been working directly with the Malloy administration on the proposal since the fall of 2016.

Connecticut School Finance Project even hired a former OPM staff person to help develop the plan, a proposal that undermines local control and sets up the new apparatus that would dramatically reduce the amount of money many towns receive for providing special education services to the children in their communities.

The newly released documents highlight a variety of communications and meetings between the Connecticut School Finance Project and Malloy officials including the activities of a School Finance Project staffer who isn’t even registered to lobby.

In November 2016, the Connecticut School Finance Project’s Senior Policy Analyst wrote to Malloy’s Undersecretary for Legal Affairs stating,

“I want to reach out to make sure that you are updated on the progress related to the SPED Co-op funding system.  Kate [Connecticut School Finance Project’s Executive Director] indicated that your expertise was volunteered during a meeting with Secretary Barnes.”

The corporate education reform group’s staff person then explains,

“We are likely to set up the co-op as a sponsored captive insurance group…” 

And then adds

“I am going to be following up to schedule a meeting to begin working on policy development and statutory drafting.”

Since the lobbying group’s staff person was not registered to lobby, such communication violates state law.

At another point the Connecticut School Finance Project’s Executive Director, a person who is registered to lobby, but failed to report their activities as required by law, wrote to Malloy’s budget chief saying,

“Also, maybe we could quickly talk by phone so I can tell you what we have and you can let me know if its what you need.” 

And in another instance, the corporate education reform lobbyist wrote,

“I wonder if you’d like to get a status update on the calendar…we’ll have some new stuff for you…”

According to sworn statements filed with the State Ethics Commission, The Connecticut School Finance Project claimed it had no communication with anyone in the administrative branch of government during this entire time period.

Which, of course, is untrue.

Meanwhile, the proposal itself remains on the General Assembly’s legislative agenda.

Special education expert and advocate Andrew Feinstein focused on the problems with the proposal in testimony before the Insurance and Real Estate Committee saying,

“The promotional material by the Connecticut School Finance Project is flashy and appealing, but fails to answer some serious questions…let’s understand that the bill does nothing to help children with disabilities.”

And John Bestor, a retired school psychologist added,

“An Act Establishing the Connecticut Special Education Cost Cooperative represents a serious threat to over forty years of special education programming decisions which are – by law – supposed to be determined through a planning & Placement Team process that includes both parents and teachers who know the student’s educational needs best.”

The plan would be bad for Connecticut’s students, schools and taxpayers.

Furthermore, it is yet another reminder of the control the corporate education reform groups have on Malloy and his policies.

And worst of all, this group is deeply involved in developing Malloy’s agenda, all in violation of state law.