Testimony Regarding H.B. 7027 - An Act Concerning the State Budget for the Biennium Ending June 30, 2019, and Making Appropriations Therefor
Katie Roy, Director & Founder
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Chairpersons Formica, Osten, and Walker, Ranking Member Ziobron, and distinguished members of the Appropriations Committee:
Thank you for the opportunity to provide written testimony regarding H.B. 7027 and the State’s budget for elementary and secondary education.
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.
Although my testimony will not focus on the specific allocations to Connecticut’s public schools laid out in H.B. 7027, I would like to address the Committee regarding two issues critical to the education budget and communities across the state — how we fund our state’s public schools and how we fund special education.
While the changes to the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula included in the governor’s budget proposal 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. Included with a copy of my testimony is an independent analysis from the Connecticut School Finance Project, which examines the governor’s proposed school finance changes. The analysis is also available on our website at ctschoolfinance.org/formula-analyses.
Our organization 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 participation in HUSKY A;
- More accurately reflecting the State's contribution to the Teachers' Retirement System; 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.
There are a number of different ways in which a formula such as this can be crafted. And 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 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.
Finally, I’d like to briefly address how our state funds special education. In his budget proposal, the governor rightfully separates ECS funding from special education funding, making the amount of funding the State is contributing to special education more transparent and helping to ensure Connecticut is able to meet its funding obligations under IDEA.
However, the governor’s proposal to use the 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, falls short of meeting identified best practices for funding special education. Although the proposal is structurally equitable, with towns of less wealth receiving larger reimbursement percentages, a fixed maximum reimbursement percentage of 53.93 percent results in an equity metric that may not respond to concentrated levels of poverty and need, as well as changes in poverty and need across the state.
Furthermore, the governor’s proposal does not give local school districts a stake in controlling total special education costs without incentivizing the under or misdiagnosis of students with disabilities. This proposal does not include an incentive to control costs at the local level, as the reimbursement percentage mechanism is not reactive to local decision-making. In addition, 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.
Lastly, the governor’s proposal for special education fails to address the unpredictability of special education costs that continues to impact communities across the state. The proposed Special Education Grant and the reimbursement system would neither ensure that state funding is consistent nor make local expenses predictable.
Alternatively, the Connecticut School Finance Project has proposed another way to fund special education called the Special Education Predictable Cost Cooperative (the Co-op). The Co-op is a special education finance system that allows the state and local governments to share in special education costs. Using a cooperative-type model, the Co-op makes special education costs predictable for districts and towns, allowing for better budget planning.
A summary of a Connecticut School Finance Project report about the Co-op has been included with my testimony. Additionally, 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).
Thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to submit written testimony regarding H.B. 7027, and please feel free to contact me should you have any questions.
Director & Founder
Connecticut School Finance Project