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Katie Roy Testifies on Governor's Proposed School Finance Changes and Senate Bill Aimed at Changing the ECS Formula

Testimony Regarding
H.B. 7035, An Act Implementing the Governor’s Budget Recommendations Concerning Education;
Proposed S.B. 2, An Act Concerning the Development of a More Equitable Education Cost Sharing Formula;
H.B. 7034, An Act Transforming the School Construction Program; and
S.B. 907, An Act Concerning the Inclusion of a Three-Year Rolling Average in the Calculation of School Building Project Reimbursement Percentages

Katie Roy, Director & Founder
Education Committee
Wednesday, March 1, 2017

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

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on H.B. 7035 and Proposed S.B. 2, and discuss how we can improve the way Connecticut funds its public schools.

My name is Katie Roy and I am the director and founder of the Connecticut School Finance Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit policy organization based in New Haven that is working to identify solutions to Connecticut’s school funding challenges that are fair to students, taxpayers, and communities.

As complete bill language has yet to be released for S.B. 2, my testimony today focuses on the useful aspects and shortcomings of the governor’s proposed changes for Connecticut’s school finance system, and offers suggestions for both future S.B. 2 bill language and future other bills this legislative session aimed at fixing how our state allocates education dollars.

Although H.B. 7035 and the governor’s proposed changes to the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula begin to take steps toward fixing how Connecticut funds its public schools, they fall short of the comprehensive changes needed to address the fundamental flaws of Connecticut’s school finance system.

The Connecticut School Finance Project shares the governor’s goal of a more “equitable, transparent, and fair” school finance system, and admittedly, aspects of the governor’s proposed changes start to shift Connecticut in the direction of equitable school funding. These aspects include:

  • Proposing the state use a formula to distribute the ECS grant to towns and end the funding of local public school districts via block grants based on little more than historical precedent and the political power;
  • Changing the metric used to represent low-income students in the ECS formula from eligibility for free and reduced price lunch to the more accurate metric of eligibility for HUSKY A; and
  • Separating ECS funding from special education funding, which makes the amount of funding the State is contributing to special education more transparent and helps ensure Connecticut is able to meet its funding obligations under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

However, while these changes inch our state toward equitable education funding, they do not address, nor will they solve, the fundamental problems with Connecticut’s school finance system.

The goal of an “equitable, transparent, and fair” school finance system cannot truly be achieved unless Connecticut ends its current practice of using 11 unconnected and arbitrary formulas to fund its public schools. To continue using 11 different formulas would be to continue a system that fundamentally treats students, schools, and communities unfairly, and pits town against town.

To achieve an equitable school finance system and ensure we are providing each Connecticut student with opportunities for success in and outside of the classroom, our state must comprehensively change how we fund public education. This means using a unified funding formula based on the learning needs of students and the needs of their communities.

The effectiveness of such a formula depends on the specifics of the formula’s components. While there are a number of different ways in which a formula can be crafted, a fair, transparent, and logical funding formula should seek to embody the following elements and characteristics in order to ensure success:

  • Foundation: A foundation that is based on an analysis of verifiable data and provides sufficient resources to educate students to a constitutionally adequate standard.
  • Weights: Weights that allocate sufficient resources to students who require greater resources to be able to learn and achieve at similar levels to their non-need peers.
  • State Share Mechanism: A state share mechanism that equitably divides the cost of education between local and state resources depending on the wealth and ability of a community to pay.
  • Inclusion: All students are funded according to their needs through a unified funding formula across the state.
  • Cost: The formula has reasonable state and local cost expectations, combined with a realistic implementation schedule, such that the formula can be fully funded within a reasonable period of time.

While I would love to discuss in greater detail today the components and various options for creating such a formula, I do want to be respectful of both the Committee’s time and the time of the other individuals who are here today to testify before you.

However, provided with the digital copy of my testimony today is a copy of the Connecticut School Finance Project’s Funding Formula Guidebook, which details components of an equitable and effective school finance system as well as options for policymakers to consider. The Guidebook is also available on our website at ctschoolfinance.org/reports/funding-formula-guidebook.

Also included with the digital copy of my testimony are several independent analyses the Connecticut School Finance Project has produced, including:

Once the full bill language for S.B. 2 is released and we’ve reviewed it, the Connecticut School Finance Project will provide a complete analysis of the bill, including a comparison of it to the governor’s proposed school finance formula changes. This analysis will be shared with the Committee, as well as included on our website at ctschoolfinance.org/formula-analyses.

It is also important to note that included in H.B. 7035 is the governor’s proposal to use a new Special Education Grant to reimburse local public school districts for their special education costs on a sliding scale from 0 to 53.93 percent, based on a town’s relative wealth. Although the proposal is structurally equitable, it falls short of meeting identified best practices for funding special education and fails to address the unpredictability of special education costs that continues to impact communities across the state.

The governor’s proposal also does not incentivize school districts to control special education costs at the local level, as the reimbursement percentage mechanism is not reactive to local decision-making. As a result, the set percentage reimbursement may result in the misidentification of students as requiring special education services in order to classify the resources used to educate these students as special education expenditures, which would therefore be eligible for reimbursement by the State. An analysis of the governor’s special education funding proposal (ctschoolfinance.org/assets/uploads/files/Special-Education-Grant-Policy-Analysis.pdf) is included with the digital copy of my testimony.

Finally, before concluding my testimony, I would like to comment briefly on H.B. 7034, An Act Transforming the School Construction Program, and S.B. 907, An Act Concerning the Inclusion of a Three-Year Rolling Average in the Calculation of School Building Project Reimbursement Percentages. Funding for school construction is an important piece of education funding in Connecticut and as such deserves a thorough examination to ensure state dollars are being appropriated effectively and transparently.

When evaluating the state’s school construction program and looking to make revisions, we urge the Education Committee and the General Assembly to consider the 2014 recommendations (www.ct.gov/dcs/lib/dcs/sbpac/sbpac_report_02072014.pdf) from the School Building Projects Advisory Council, which was established, pursuant to section 10-292q of the Connecticut General Statutes, to research and analyze how our state can improve its school building process. The Council’s full 2014 report is included with the digital copy of my testimony.

With that, I thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to testify today on H.B. 7035 and Proposed S.B. 2, as well as comment on H.B. 7034 and S.B. 907. I’m also happy to answer any questions Committee members have, and I welcome the opportunity to meet with any member, at your convenience, to discuss school finance and/or formula creation in greater detail.

Sincerely,

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