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Katie Roy Shares Concerns about Bill that Would Continue Connecticut's Flawed School Finance Formula

Testimony Regarding H.B. 7270, An Act Concerning the Education Cost-Sharing Grant Formula for Fiscal Years Ending June 30, 2018, and June 30, 2019

Katie Roy, Director & Founder
Education Committee
Monday, March 20, 2017

Chairpersons Fleischmann, Slossberg, and Boucher, Ranking Member Lavielle, and distinguished members of the Education Committee:

My name is Katie Roy and I am the director and founder of the Connecticut School Finance Project. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today to share our concerns about H.B. 7270.

Rather than addressing the fundamental flaws in Connecticut’s school finance system, H.B. 7270 would continue the practice of funding Connecticut’s public school based on patchwork policies, inconsistent fixes, and block grants, which are based on historical precedent, rather than enrollment, student learning needs, and community wealth, for another two years. For far too long, Connecticut has tinkered around the edges of fixing our state’s school finance system, rather than addressing these problems head on.

As Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher wrote in his decision in Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell, the State of Connecticut “cannot meet its educational duties under the constitution without adhering to a reasoned and discernible formula for distributing state education aid.” Rather than distributing state education dollars in a logical, equitable, and transparent manner, H.B. 7270 goes counter to Moukawsher’s decision and ensures Connecticut continues to fall short of “meeting its educational duties under the constitution.”

As our organization has traveled across the state over the past year speaking about school finance and meeting with parents, students, educators, legislators, local officials, and interested community members, one point in particular has rung loud and true in every community no matter the town’s size, wealth, demographic makeup, or location—Connecticut needs a school finance system that makes sense. Using an equitable, transparent, and predictable system for allocating more than $2 billion in state education dollars is not ideological or partisan – it’s just good governance.

Admittedly, developing and implementing an effective, equitable, and financially feasible school finance formula is not an easy task. There is no “silver bullet” that will make the process of fixing how Connecticut funds its public schools any easier—any fair and logical solution will require trade-offs and compromises.

Furthermore, we analyzed the impact of how H.B. 7270 proposed to increase town’s education block grants over the next two years, and we are concerned that, under this proposal, many of the largest increases would not go to the highest need communities.

Specifically, H.B. 7270 proposes to re-allocate the funding that towns are receiving in excess of their current ECS grant entitlement—sometimes called “overfunding”—to those towns that are most “underfunded” by percent. The impact of looking at underfunding in terms of percent, rather than dollars, is that middle and higher wealth communities tend to look more underfunded than the highest need communities, which tend to be the most underfunded in terms of dollars. (Note: There are two cities that are so significantly underfunded according to the current Education Cost Sharing formula that they are among the most underfunded in terms of both dollars and percent.)As Judge Moukawsher wrote in the CCJEF decision, “The distance between the rich and poor students in this state is great enough to remove any doubt about the importance of being careful to send money where it is most needed.”

Finally, H.B. 7270 also proposes the State Department of Education engage a consultant to conduct an education cost adequacy study. We are concerned the conversation around adequacy, or costing out, studies has not been sufficiently nuanced. Education cost adequacy studies seek to answer the question of “What will it cost to provide students in a state with the resources necessary to achieve at desired levels?” Unfortunately, adequacy studies are not exact sciences that yield precise cost estimates. There are a variety of approaches and methodologies to conducting them, and the merits and shortcomings of each approach have been debated by academics. Each methodology will give you a different answer to this question. We have detailed the different types of education cost adequacy studies in a section of our Funding Formula Guidebook, which has been attached to my written testimony.

Furthermore, and arguably most importantly, education cost adequacy studies do not answer the questions, “How should state education dollars be distributed?” and, “How should the State and municipalities share in funding the costs of public education?” These two questions were at the heart of Judge Moukawsher’s ruling and they are at the heart of every school finance conversation our state has had for the past nearly four decades. Education cost adequacy studies do not provide answers to these questions.

The Connecticut School Finance Project fully agrees that data and research should be used to determine a foundation amount for a school funding formula, but a lengthy education cost adequacy study will not necessarily provide any better or more valuable information than our state currently has in regard to determining a foundation amount.

Adopting H.B. 7270 would not make addressing our state’s school finance challenges any easier nor would it provide a pathway toward a logical, transparent, and equitable school finance system. We urge the Education Committee and General Assembly to move forward this legislative session with adopting a new funding formula that addresses the fundamental flaws in Connecticut’s school finance system and provides all of Connecticut’s more than 500,000 students will equitable access to educational opportunities.

Thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to testify on H.B. 7270 and I’m happy to answer any questions Committee members may have.

Sincerely,

Katie Roy
Director & Founder
Connecticut School Finance Project