Throughout our history, the School and State Finance Project has worked extensively to address Connecticut’s most pressing education finance challenges and develop innovative, data-driven policy solutions that can improve the state’s fiscal health. The organization has accomplished this through its data and policy expertise, strategic government relations, committed outreach to communities and residents across the state, and thoughtful, creative communications. Below are just a few of the accomplishments we've achieved in the past.
A More Equitable Education Funding Formula
Since the School and State Finance Project was founded, one of our primary goals has been to improve Connecticut’s education finance system for all students and communities by creating a more equitable, logical, and transparent system. Throughout the Connecticut General Assembly’s 2017 legislative sessions, we worked with the Office of the Governor and all four legislative caucuses to revise the state’s Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula, which is the method the State of Connecticut has established to distribute approximately $2 billion in state education funding to local public school districts.
Our work for a more equitable funding formula included modeling dozens of potential revisions to determine their impacts on the state budget and individual towns. Our staff also consistently met and communicated with legislators about the need for a new, equitable ECS formula, and created talking points and presentations for lawmakers to use.
Through our work and the technical assistance we provided to the Office of the Governor and the General Assembly, our team helped spark the conversation that ultimately resulted in the legislature passing a new, more equitable ECS formula as part of the state’s biennial budget. As a result of the new formula, local public school districts, for the first time in years, are now funded more equitably and receive state education aid based on the needs of their students and communities rather than through arbitrary and political block grants.
Greater Funding for English Learners & High-Need Districts
From 2010 to 2020, Connecticut’s English Learner population grew by nearly 13,000 students while the state's total student enrollment declined significantly. This increase in student need also brought along a need for greater resources to support English Learner students. During the Connecticut General Assembly's 2021 legislative session, we responded to these growing needs by working with legislators and partner organizations to adjust some of the ECS formula's weights and thresholds to drive greater resources to English Learner students and economically disadvantaged districts.
As part of Connecticut's state budget for fiscal years 2022 and 2023, the General Assembly passed our recommendation and increased the ECS formula's weight for English Learners from 15% to 25%. This weight increase results in greater funding to school districts to be spent on equitable learning opportunities and resources for English Learners.
The legislature also adopted another one of our recommendations and increased the ECS formula's concentrated poverty weight from 5% to 15% and lowered the eligibility threshold for the weight from 75% to 60%. As a result of these changes, greater funding is provided to districts with high concentrations of economically disadvantaged students, and more districts are eligible for this additional funding.
Interactive Revenue Calculator for State Comptroller
Everyone knows they pay taxes, but what’s not always clear is how state tax systems work and how tax policy changes impact the revenue states collect. In February 2018, Connecticut’s State Comptroller aimed to fix this when they partnered with us to design and develop an online interactive, public-facing revenue tool that would allow users to calculate the impact of selected revenue policies and changes.
Our team developed and launched a new and improved Do-it-Yourself (DIY) Revenue Calculator for the Comptroller’s website that allows users to 1) specify changes in existing state tax rates, 2) eliminate existing state tax exemptions and credits, and 3) implement new state taxes and fees to change the estimated amount and sources of state revenue.
Additionally, our team created a public frequently asked questions document about the Calculator as well as an accompanying full methodology document outlining the tool’s calculations and sources. Our team continues to update the Calculator with the latest revenue estimates, policy changes, and tax proposals so the tool remains up-to-date and accurate.
Since its launch in June 2018, the revamped Calculator has been viewed thousands of times and has made it easier for the general public to see how Connecticut’s tax system works and what policy changes mean for their wallets and the state’s coffers.
Building Relationships & Community Knowledge
Over the past five years, our Community Engagement team has held over 700 meetings and workshops with communities across the state, presented to thousands of individuals, and built a contact list of over 900 committed individuals across 55 cities and towns. Through this work, our organization has built genuine, positive relationships in communities across Connecticut, increased knowledge and engagement around issues of education and state finance, and given people the skills to effectively add their voices to policy discussions
As a result of this engagement work, community members have grown significantly more knowledgable about how Connecticut funds its public schools and have become more involved in advocating for equitable funding for all students.
These deep relationships and the presence of engaged communities has led us to expand our education offerings and presentations, and we now offer an array of workshops that cover everything from how the economy works and impacts state finance to how to write an op-ed or piece of legislative testimony. Additionally, in response to students expressing interest in learning more about education finance, we developed a K-12 curriculum that has been utilized regularly.
The First Interactive Look at Connecticut's State Budget
Navigating Connecticut's state budget is no easy task. At nearly 600 pages long with hundreds of line items and numerous complex statutory changes, the state budget is far from a light read and can easily become overwhelming and confusing. We aimed to fix this by launching our Budget Analysis Tool in September 2019, the first comprehensive, interactive tool designed to help users of all knowledge and skill levels navigate the state budget and better understand how state revenue is raised and spent.
The Budget Analysis Tool allows users to explore Connecticut's biennial state budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 and examine how the state's revenues and expenditures have changed over the years. The interactive tool also gives users the chance to easily find information about agency spending, specific line items, and different revenue streams.
The Tool also highlights fixed costs in the state budget and provides a look into aid provided to each Connecticut city and town. Stakeholders from across the state, including legislators and local policymakers, have found the Budget Analysis Tool useful and a quick and accessible way to find budget information.
Hosting Connecticut's First Pension Academy
In January 2019, we expanded on our role as a resource to policymakers and stakeholders by organizing and hosting the first Connecticut Pension Academy with the League of Women Voters of Connecticut. Held at the Connecticut State Capitol, the event was wildly successful and drew a standing-room only crowd of roughly 200 people as well as an audience watching a live broadcast of the event online.
The daylong, nonpartisan event was dedicated to examining the State of Connecticut's unfunded pension liabilities and their impacts on the state budget, while learning about potential ways policymakers can improve the financial viability of Connecticut's public pension systems and address some of the looming financial challenges facing the state.
Open to state and local policymakers as well as the general public, the Pension Academy featured some of the nation's preeminent experts on public pension design and funding.