Six design principles for a new, fair CT school funding formula

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Connecticut’s K-12 public school funding system is fundamentally broken. That is the simple and unfortunate truth that boards of education, superintendents, principals, teachers, and education reform advocates have known for years.  Lacking a fair funding formula we are shortchanging our communities, and most importantly our children who deserve access to a quality public education.

While we may disagree on other areas of education policy, on this front we are united in calling for the development of a new, fair, equitable, and predictable school funding formula that supports student learning for every child in a Connecticut public school.

Our state’s current school financing formula, the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula was developed nearly 30 years ago, has been altered countless times and is no longer being followed.  We now use more than 10 different ways to fund our public schools, with little to no connection to students’ actual learning needs.

The result of all of this complexity is that there is no unified, consistent, or predictable funding system to provide resources for every child enrolled our public school system.  That means the more than $2 billion the state spends annually on education aid is not being allocated according to clear, fair or consistent rules.

This needs to end.

This reality was noted in Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawasher’s recent CCJEF v. Rell decision, which found that Connecticut has failed its “constitutional duty to provide adequate public school opportunities because it has no rational, substantial and verifiable plan to distribute money for education aid.”  While this decision has been appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court, we urge our state’s elected leaders to begin working now, during the 2017 legislative session, to develop the new, fair funding formula that our students, schools, and communities across the state deserve.

To help guide this process, we have come together as a diverse coalition of educators to agree on six principles that any new school funding formula should reflect in its core values:

  • Equity: Student learning needs and enrollment should drive state and local funding.  Students at all public schools, including schools of choice, should receive equitable state and local funding.  Low-income students, students who are English Learners, and students who require special education services, should be funded according to their learning needs.
  • Innovation:The formula should incentivize innovative and efficient practices in support of mastery-based personalized learning.
  • Coherence: A single funding formula for all school types should replace the current ECS grant and various additional per-pupil funding methods.
  • Transparency: Schools and districts should be able to predict their annual funding from both state and local sources and funding levels should be grounded in verifiable and transparent data. The formula should be subject to periodic review of its effectiveness.
  • Fairness: Education funding is a shared state and local responsibility.  State aid for each community should be determined by a combination of factors, including multiple measures of property and income conditions, and concentration of low-income students.
  • Accountability: State and local education funds should be used wisely, mindful of broader fiscal constraints in Connecticut, and districts should be accountable for how they use their financial resources. Education expenditures should be transparent and regularly reported so that spending can be compared across schools and districts.

Developing a new school funding formula will no doubt be difficult work, particularly given our state’s challenging budget environment.  But it is work that must be done. We must allocate our precious education resources in a smarter, more transparent, and predictable way that better directs funding to those districts and students with the greatest needs.

We stand ready to work with our elected leaders to develop and adopt a new school funding formula that Connecticut needs and that our communities and children deserve.  The time for action on this critical issue of equity and fairness is now.

Robert Rader, Connecticut Association of Boards of Education; Joseph Cirasuolo, Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents; Karissa Niehoff, Connecticut Association of Schools; Jeffrey A. Villar, Connecticut Council for Education Reform; and Jennifer Alexander, ConnCAN.

What do you think?

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