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Katie Roy Testifies on Bill to Move Connecticut Toward a Special Education Predictable Cost Cooperative

Testimony Regarding H.B. 7255, An Act Establishing a Task Force to Conduct a Feasibility Study Regarding the Creation of a Special Education Predictable Cost Cooperative

Katie Roy, Director & Founder
Education Committee
Thursday, March 16, 2017

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

Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of H.B. 7255 and its proposal for a feasibility study regarding the creation of a Special Education Predictable Cost Cooperative.

My name is Katie Roy and I am the director and founder of the Connecticut School Finance Project, which developed the Special Education Predictable Cost Cooperative (the Co-op) model in partnership with the University of Connecticut’s Goldenson Center for Actuarial Research and Neag School of Education.

Special education funding is an issue that impacts every city and town in Connecticut, and has posed challenges for urban, suburban, and rural communities as well as school districts both large and small.

As we’ve traveled across the state speaking in communities about school finance, concerns about special education funding have consistently been raised by a wide array of stakeholders. These concerns, along with feedback from parents, educators, and policymakers, led us to develop the Co-op model for funding special education.

Currently, Connecticut serves more than 74,500 students who need some type of special education service. These services and resources vary significantly, and often pose difficult planning and financial questions to Connecticut’s public schools and municipalities. Adding to this difficulty is the fact that Connecticut is currently one of only four states with no system for funding all of its special education students.

As a result, school districts throughout Connecticut face fluctuating special education costs that can make local budget planning difficult, sometimes requiring districts to dip into general education funds, or hinder their abilities to provide special education students with the resources they need.

The Co-op would help address these challenges by allowing the state and local governments to share in special education costs and increasing stability and predictability in special education funding for school districts, while ensuring decisions in service delivery and identification remain local.

The Co-op has three straightforward and important goals.

The first goal is to protect students. The Co-op protects students with disabilities by ensuring adequate funding is available for the services they need and deserve—no matter what their disabilities may be. At the same time, the Co-op also benefits those students not requiring special education services because predictable special education funding helps stabilize general education funding and ensures districts don’t have to resort to dipping into their general education funding to pay for necessary special education services.

The second goal of the Co-op is to improve predictability. The Co-op would allow all districts and municipalities to know what their total special education costs will be in the prior year, when they are creating their budgets, allowing for better budget planning. Then, during the school year, districts would be reimbursed for 100 percent of their actual special education costs.

Lastly, the Co-op’s third goal is to increase equity. The Co-op takes into account a district’s ability to pay for the special education services its students need. Under the Co-op, every school district would receive some state aid for special education, and be reimbursed for 100 percent of their actual special education costs, districts with greater student need would receive greater state aid.

The Co-op is able to achieve these goals by aggregating special education costs together at the state level to leverage the fact that, on a statewide basis, special education costs are predictable, even though they are frequently volatile at the district level.

Under the Co-op, all districts and municipalities will know what their total special education costs will be in the prior year, when they are creating their budgets, allowing for better budget planning. Additionally, school districts will be reimbursed for 100 percent of their actual special education costs, and every district will receive some state aid for special education.

The Co-op would be funded by contributions from the State and municipalities. The State’s contribution would come from reallocating to the Co-op its current state support for special education (i.e. the portion of the Education Cost Sharing grant that is assumed to be attributable to special education, as well as funding for the Excess Cost grant), while municipalities would contribute by making a Community Contribution for each special education student who lives in their town. A Community Contribution would be calculated for each town using a formula that takes into account the town’s number of special education students, past special education costs, and the community’s ability to pay based on its wealth. Additional information about the Co-op, including detailed information about the calculation of the Community Contribution, can be found at ctschoolfinance.org/our-solutions/special-education.

We recognize the Co-op proposal is a new idea, and all new ideas carry with them some amount of uncertainty and forces us to make changes to the way we’ve always done things. Naturally, this causes many of us to feel a sense of trepidation, but we must not let this feeling prevent us from moving forward with new ideas that have the potential to solve long-standing problems. This proposal, while new, has garnered broad support as a promising idea.

We strongly support H.B. 7255 because we agree it is critically important to thoroughly vet new policy proposals and ensure a strong implementation plan. However, we are concerned that, far too often, task forces become the graveyards of good ideas and proposals that can help solve some our state’s biggest challenges. In an effort to ensure this does not happen to the Co-op, we are requesting a few minor changes to H.B. 7255, which we shared with the Committee leadership earlier in the week and have attached to my testimony today. 

First, in order to ensure the task force created under H.B. 7255 has access to the tools and resources it needs to be as productive as possible, we are requesting a provision be added to the bill that would allow the task force to retain consultants, approved by the Connecticut Insurance Department, to perform the feasibility study in accordance with Conn. Gen. Statutes ch. 698, § 38a-91bb (2014).

As feasibility studies typically cost approximately $75,000, and the state is currently facing a difficult fiscal climate, we are also requesting the bill language be changed to allow the task force to receive funds from any public or private source(s) (such as a nonprofit foundation) in order for the task force to be able to carry out the feasibility study if funds are not available from existing appropriations. The language for this change we are requesting is the exact language that appeared in the Planning Commission for Education legislative language in Conn. Acts 15-5, § 263 (June Special Session).

Finally, we have requested a few changes to improve clarity.

The Connecticut School Finance Project greatly appreciates the Committee’s willingness to consider the Co-op model and its consideration of these requested changes to the bill language of H.B. 7255.

The time has come for Connecticut to adopt a real solution to its special education funding challenges. The Co-op model offers a solution, based on sound actuarial principles, that benefits all students, improves predictability for our cities and towns, and ensures state support for special education is distributed equitably.

Thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to testify in support of H.B. 7255 and the establishment of a task force to conduct a feasibility study regarding the creation of a Special Education Predictable Cost Cooperative.

I’m happy to answer any questions Committee members have, and I welcome the opportunity to meet with any member, at your convenience, to discuss the Co-op in greater detail and review the financial modeling that estimates the specific impact the Co-op would have on your school district(s) and town(s).

Sincerely,

Katie Roy
Director & Founder
Connecticut School Finance Project
katie.roy@ctschoolfinance.org