Testimony Regarding S.B. 542 - An Act Establishing the Connecticut Special Education Predictable Cost Cooperative
Katie Roy, Director & Founder
Insurance and Real Estate Committee
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Chairmen Larson, Kelly, and Scanlon, Ranking Member Sampson, and distinguished members of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee:
Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of S.B. 542 and its proposal to establish a Special Education Predictable Cost Cooperative. I want to especially thank Senator Larson and Senator Leone for introducing the bill and for their strong support, as well as Representative Ezequiel Santiago for co-sponsoring the bill.
My name is Katie Roy and I am the director and founder of the Connecticut School Finance Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit 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.
Today, I’d like to speak with you about funding special education — 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.
Currently, Connecticut serves more than 74,500 students who need some type of special education service. For some students that service may be as simple as working with a speech pathologist once a week to improve their pronunciation, while other students may require far more intensive, full-time specialized services and support to meet their needs.
These services and the resources required to provide them 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.
Together, these factors have made it difficult for districts and municipalities to plan budgets that meet the needs of all the students they serve. 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.
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 a new model for funding special education called the Special Education Predictable Cost Cooperative (the Co-op). The Co-op, which S.B. 542 would create, would allow the state and local governments to share in special education costs and increase 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. While 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.
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.
While this is a brief overview of the Co-op, 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. Attached to my testimony is a policy brief that explains the Co-op in greater depth, including a detailed explanation of the Community Contribution formula. 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 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).
Additionally, more information about the Co-op can be found at ctschoolfinance.org/our-solutions/special-education.
With that, thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to testify in support of S.B. 542 and the establishment of a Special Education Predictable Cost Cooperative.
Director & Founder
Connecticut School Finance Project