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Katie Roy Testifies Before Black and Puerto Rican Caucus on State Education Funding

Legislative Testimony

Testimony Regarding Education Funding and the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Formula

Katie Roy, Executive Director & Founder
Black and Puerto Rican Caucus
Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Chairmen McGee, Vice Chairman Reyes, and distinguished members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus:

Thank you for the opportunity to address you today and for holding this important forum. My name is Katie Roy and I am the executive director and founder of the Connecticut School Finance Project.

I want to start by thanking the Caucus for its commitment to equitable state education funding and for the work of the members over the years to create a fairer, more transparent, and more consistent school finance system.

As I have in the past, I am here today before the Caucus to discuss Connecticut’s school finance system and answer any questions you may have, particularly about the new Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula that began being implemented this fiscal year and distributes approximately $2 billion in state education funding to Connecticut’s local public school districts.

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. I am happy to say the new ECS formula is now being used. The formula began being implemented in FY 2019, which started July 1, 2018. This new formula is scheduled to be phased-in over the next 10 years.

The new ECS formula takes several steps in the right direction toward equitably and fairly funding Connecticut’s local public schools, particularly those serving higher-need students and those districts located in cities and towns facing greater financial challenges.

Taking Student Needs and Student Enrollment into Account

The new ECS formula takes student learning needs into account by using three “need-student” weights that increase per-student state education aid for students with additional learning needs. The purpose of these weights is to drive greater funds to students who research has shown require additional resources and support to achieve at the same levels as their peers who do not have additional learning needs.

Included in the ECS formula are weights that provide extra funding to districts for students who are from low-income families as well as for students who are classified as English Learners. Additionally, the ECS formula contains a concentrated poverty weight, which increases funding for low-income students residing in districts with concentrations of low-income students of over 75 percent of district enrollment.

More information about each of these weights can be found on the ECS formula infographic in the packets we have provided for each Caucus member, as well on our website at www.ctschoolfinance.org/ecs-formula/ecs-weights.

In addition to better accounting for student needs, it is important to note that the new ECS formula also takes into account changes in the student count annually. The ECS formula is calculated on an annual basis using updated district and town data so as a district’s enrollment and student needs change, those changes are reflected in the district’s ECS grant.

How ECS Formula Impacts Alliance Districts and Students of Color

Previously, and during this legislative session, members of the Caucus have asked for information and data concerning the distribution of ECS dollars to higher-need communities as well as districts serving predominantly Black and Latino students. I am happy to provide this information today.

  • For this fiscal year, FY 2019, 70 percent of all ECS funding will be distributed to Connecticut’s 33 Alliance Districts.
  • Additionally, for FY 2019, 60 percent of total ECS funding will go to districts whose student enrollments are 50 percent or more students of color, while 43 percent will go to districts whose student enrollments are 75 percent or more students of color.
  • By the time the ECS formula is fully phased in in FY 2028, it is estimated that 90 percent of all new ECS funding (meaning of all funding for towns receiving an increase) will have gone to Alliance Districts.
  • Also, by the time the ECS formula is fully phased in in FY 2028, it is estimated 80 percent of all new ECS funding will have gone to districts whose student enrollments are 50 percent or more students of color, while 56 percent will have gone to districts whose student enrollments are 75 percent or more students of color.

Our team is happy to expand on this data as well as provide more information about how the new ECS formula impacts specific communities if any of the Caucus members are interested.

Importance of Sticking to Formula’s Phase-in Schedule

One particular item that the data points I just mentioned highlight is the importance of sticking to the phase-in schedule for the ECS formula.

The ECS formula is currently being phased in over 10 years with districts being fully funded according to the formula beginning in FY 2028. It is projected that overall ECS funding will need to be increased by an estimated $345.4 million — over FY 2019 ECS funding levels — to fully fund all districts according to the formula.

More information about the ECS formula’s phase-in schedule can be found on the ECS formula infographic in the packets we have provided, as well on our website at www.ctschoolfinance.org/ecs-formula/phase-in.

The importance of the General Assembly sticking to a realistic phase-in schedule cannot be overstated. Connecticut stopped using the previous ECS formula because the State did not fund the formula’s phase-in plan. As a result, rather than using a formula based on student and community needs, the General Assembly used arbitrary block grants to distribute state education aid to Connecticut’s local public school districts.

I urge all members of the General Assembly, particularly members of this Caucus, not to repeat the mistake of past legislatures, and to stick to a realistic phase-in schedule that ensures the new ECS formula is followed faithfully, and that state education aid is being distributed based on student and community needs.

Improving How the ECS Formula Counts Low-income Students

Lastly, while I have talked today about how the new ECS formula is a step in the right direction toward equitably and fairly funding Connecticut’s public schools, I wanted to highlight one area where the formula can be strengthened and improved.

Under the new 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 A. Additionally, districts may directly code students as foster, homeless, migrant, or runaway youth to qualify them for direct certification.

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. Because direct certification is a new way of counting low-income students, the number of students identified as low-income will be different than under the old method of counting. As a result, the ECS formula needs to reflect this difference in order to effectively and accurately provide critical resources to higher-need students under the ECS formula.

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.

Consequently, it is the Connecticut School Finance Project’s recommendation that the method for counting low-income students for the purposes of determining ECS funding be updated to include direct certification. In your packets, we have included a one-pager detailing this technical change, as well as a summary sheet of its impact on the school districts you represent. You’ll see that we have provided two potential options for implementing this change: a direct swap in the counting method and a direct swap with adjustments to the ECS formula weights.

I greatly appreciate many of the Caucus members already speaking with me about this technical change, and I am happy to provide any additional information or answer any questions about this recommended change.

Thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to address the Caucus today, and it has been a wonderful experience to work with many of you on the important issue of school funding over the years. I look forward to continue working with all of you this legislative session and I’m happy to answer any questions you may have at this time.

Sincerely,

Katie Roy
Executive Director & Founder
Connecticut School Finance Project