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Katie Roy Submits Testimony to Education Committee on School Regionalization/Consolidation Bills

Testimony Regarding Proposed S.B. 457, An Act Concerning the Size of School Districts; Proposed S.B. 738, An Act Concerning the Creation of Regional School Districts; and S.B. 874, An Act Concerning Education Initiatives and Services in Connecticut

Katie Roy, Executive Director & Founder
Education Committee
Friday, March 1, 2019

Chairmen McCrory and Sanchez, Ranking Members Bethel and McCarty, and distinguished members of the Education Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony regarding school district consolidation, and the research that has been conducted on this subject, as you consider and discuss Proposed S.B. 457 from Senators Duff and Osten, Proposed S.B. 738 from Senator Looney, and S.B. 874 proposed by Governor Lamont.

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.

As each member of the Committee knows, the introduction of several pieces of proposed legislation this legislative session concerning the consolidation of school districts has sparked significant interest as well as concerns and questions. Although a difficult and politically challenging conversation, I sincerely appreciate the willingness of Committee members to discuss these proposals and have a constructive and honest dialogue about ways Connecticut can possibly improve public education.

My testimony is not in support of or in opposition to any of the bills that have been proposed concerning school district consolidation. Rather, the sole focus of my written testimony is to provide nonpartisan, research-based information about school district consolidation for you to have and draw from as you continue your conversations as a Committee about this important subject.

Additionally, to prevent any confusion, or conflation with different proposals or definitions, when I refer to “school district consolidation” in my testimony, I am referring to two or more previously independent school districts combining into one new and larger school district, resulting in a single district oversight board and administration.

Review of Academic Research on School District Consolidation

The Connecticut School Finance Project recently completed a comprehensive review of academic research regarding the costs and benefits of school district consolidation. This literature review examined academic research related to school district consolidation and student outcomes, as well as research focused on district consolidation and economic efficiency. In total, 40 academic articles related to school district size, consolidation, and other types of school district regionalization were included in the literature review.

The literature review examined academic works published from 2007 to 2018, with nearly all of the research pieces coming from peer-reviewed academic journals. Additionally, our research review included policy papers, white papers, and working papers that analyze recent trends in policy, or state-specific circumstances regarding the outcomes of different regionalization strategies.

Our full review of academic research on school district consolidation is available on our website at http://www.ctschoolfinance.org/assets/uploads/files/Review-of-Research-on-District-and-School-Consolidation.pdf.

The literature review revealed several key findings, including that research indicates very small schools and districts may not be able to provide comprehensive educational programs to students, such as extracurricular activities and Advanced Placement courses.

In addition, research suggests that 1) economic efficiency is expected to increase when small school districts consolidate, and 2) for Connecticut’s peer states, the optimal school district size for these efficiencies is approximately 1,500-3,000 students. For comparison, there are currently 84 local and regional school districts in Connecticut serving fewer than 2,000 students. Information about these districts, as well as maps of where these districts are located in the state, can be found attached to this testimony.

In addition to these two key points, the review of academic research on school district consolidation also yielded several additional findings related to the impacts of consolidation on student outcomes and financial efficiency.

Impact of School District Consolidation on Student Outcomes

Based on the academic research that has been conducted and published, there is no conclusive evidence that school district consolidation positively or negatively impacts students’ academic performance.

However, arguments can be made that access to educational opportunities such as Advance Placement courses, elective courses, and athletics is improved by consolidating very small school districts. In studies where student performance was shown to be negatively correlated with school district size, other variables, such as student income and student-teacher ratios, have much stronger effects on student achievement than the size of school districts.

As I know you have a number of people submitting testimony and testifying before , I will not go into the details for each piece of research and the specific findings. However, for your convenience, there is a one-pager attached to my testimony providing examples and findings from research in Connecticut and comparison states on the impacts of school district consolidation on student outcomes. This one-pager is also available on our website at www.ctschoolfinance.org/assets/uploads/files/School-District-Consolidation.pdf.

Impact of School District Consolidation on Financial Efficiency

Academic research on the fiscal impacts of school district consolidations shows economies of scale are likely to occur when smaller districts combine to form a single, larger school district.

Although there is a lack of agreement in academia on the methodologies for determining the most efficient school district size, there is substantial evidence — across research methodologies — that cost efficiency is expected to increase when smaller school districts consolidate.

Examples and specific findings from research in Connecticut and comparison states on the impacts of school district consolidation on financial efficiencies are listed on the one-pager attached to my testimony and available at the link above.

Additionally, the Connecticut School Finance Project is happy to provide further information about specific pieces of research or findings should you have any questions.

Thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to provide written testimony on Proposed S.B. 457, Proposed S.B. 738, and S.B. 874, and 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