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Katie Roy Submits Testimony to Appropriations Committee on State Education Funding in Governor's Budget, H.B. 7148

Testimony Regarding H.B. 7148, An Act Concerning the State Budget for the Biennium Ending June Thirtieth, 2021, and Making Appropriations Therefor

Katie Roy, Executive Director & Founder
Appropriations Committee
Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Chairwomen Osten and Walker, Ranking Members Formica and Lavielle, and distinguished members of the Appropriations Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to submit informational testimony on H.B. 7148 and discuss education funding in Governor Ned Lamont’s proposed budget.

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

The governor’s proposed budget builds on work done by the General Assembly over the past few years to improve Connecticut’s school finance system and make the distribution of state education funding more equitable and transparent.

Specifically, the governor’s proposed budget largely maintains the structure of the new Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula that began being implemented this year, uses updated student and town data, and uses a more inclusive and more accurate method for identifying low-income students to better direct resources to higher-need students.

These are steps forward for state education funding and are critical for Connecticut to ensure all public school students are being funded fairly and based on their learning needs.

Maintaining Structure of ECS Formula and Using Updated Student & Town Data

After years of not faithfully using an ECS formula and instead funding local public schools through block grants, in October 2017, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a new ECS formula as part of the state’s biennial budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. This new formula began being implemented this fiscal year (FY 2019).

While the governor’s proposed budget does accelerate the phase-out for towns projected to receive decreases in ECS funding from a rate of 8.33 percent each year from FY 2020 to FY 2028, to a rate of 25 percent each year through FY 2022 (resulting in a 50 percent phase-out for these towns in FY 2020, and a 75 percent phase-out in FY 2021, as compared to FY 2017 funding levels), the Connecticut School Finance Project is encouraged that the governor’s proposed budget largely maintains the structure of the ECS formula and sticks to a realistic phase-in schedule that reflects Connecticut’s current economic and fiscal needs.

We are also encouraged to see the governor’s proposed budget uses updated district and town data in calculating town ECS grants. Using annually-updated student and town data when distributing ECS grants to towns is critical to the successful implementation and execution of the formula, and ensures the formula is effectively distributing state education aid to the students and communities with the greatest needs.

Improving How the ECS Formula Counts Low-income Students

We are particularly pleased to see Governor Lamont’s proposed budget improves how low-income students are counted, for purposes of the ECS formula, by using a more accurate method for identifying these students.

Currently, under the ECS formula, low-income students are identified — for purposes of allocating additional funding through the low-income student weight and the concentrated poverty weight — based on whether they are eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, known in Connecticut as free or reduced price lunch (FRPL).

The NSLP is in the process of transitioning to a new, more accurate method of determining whether students are eligible for free or low-cost meals. Previously, students’ families were asked to complete paper forms stating their family income and return them to school. Now, students are “directly certified” by their school district as eligible for FRPL if they are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps; Temporary Family Assistance (TFA), otherwise known as cash assistance; state- or federally-funded Head Start programs; or children’s Medicaid, otherwise known as HUSKY.

As a result of this change, the old method of counting low-income students has become inaccurate and needs to be updated to the new direct certification method.

The governor’s proposed budget makes this necessary update by changing the proxy of low-income students, for the purposes of the ECS formula, to students who are directly certified for FRPL. As a result of this change, the ECS formula would more effectively and accurately provide critical resources to Connecticut’s higher-need students.

Four states, including Massachusetts, have already changed to this new method of counting low-income students, and 17 other states are in the process of transitioning to the direct certification method.

The Connecticut School Finance Project urges the Appropriations Committee to support this change, and we are happy to answer any questions you may have about it and how it may impact the schools in your district. Additionally, attached to my testimony is a one-pager detailing this technical change, which is also available at www.ctschoolfinance.org/assets/uploads/files/Updating-How-CT-Counts-Low-income-Students.pdf.

Thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to provide testimony on H.B. 7148 and some of the education funding items in the governor’s proposed budget that the Connecticut School Finance Project is encouraged by. Please feel free to reach out to me via the contact information below should you have any questions or would like more information.

Sincerely,

Katie Roy
Executive Director & Founder
Connecticut School Finance Project