New school funding essential to giving some students a voice

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As high school English teachers, we often engage students in discussions about the nature of power. Empowering students to use their voices is often difficult, as we and our fellow teachers lack the resources to support their daily learning.

The financial power of other districts — and even schools within the same district — provides other students with a voice, while the voices of our students are muted. Connecticut’s school finance system, built on local property taxes, silences our students just as they are learning to speak.

While teachers are constantly aware of how our state marginalizes our students, Judge Moukawsher’s ruling in the CCJEF v. Rell case, the state’s subsequent appeal, and Gov. Malloy’s education budget proposal have brought the rest of Connecticut up to speed. This case revealed that Connecticut is, in fact, defaulting on its requirement to provide an adequate education for every student.

Our state’s funding formula, which was intended to equalize education funding in each district, is irrational and disservices students in our neediest communities. We’ve used an arbitrary baseline for funding and have employed insufficient calculations for poverty and special education.

Even more irrational, however, is that the Education Cost Sharing formula is just one of 11 formulas used by the state to fund traditional and non-traditional public schools. Each formula dictates how money is allocated to a specific type of public school, differentiating between traditional schools, which use the ECS formula, and “schools of choice” – including magnet schools, the Open Choice program, local and state charter schools, and technical and agriscience schools.

The stipulations of each funding formula, when viewed as a group whole, constitute a muddled, counterproductive school finance infrastructure in Connecticut. The type of school a student attends should not arbitrarily dictate whether a school receives adequate funding to provide him or her with an excellent education.

Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides about Judge Moukawsher’s ruling, or how the legislature acts on Malloy’s education budget, both have shone a spotlight that will hopefully make it difficult for policymakers to ignore. If legislators take any step on the matter this year, they must also consider the 10 other formulas used to fund non-traditional public schools in order to create one comprehensive system that funds all schools based on student need rather than on zip code or school type.

The answer is a single formula. But until we begin including appropriate and adequate measures for low-income students, English language learners, and special education students, our system is bound to remain ineffective and disparate by district.

As the state legislature restructures education funding to better serve students, we must also ensure that these funds are spent well. As educators, we know that more money will not instantaneously solve the serious issues in our schools. A true school funding fix must include measures that hold all districts accountable so that educators can purposefully and efficiently use state money to advance student achievement and growth.

School finance is a complicated process that lacks simple solutions – but to remain silent on this issue, in turn, silences our most underprivileged students. If we do nothing to change how schools are funded in the state of Connecticut, then we deny future generations of children the opportunity to speak for themselves.

Nate Deysher is a teacher at Achievement First Amistad High School in New Haven and Jillian Harkins is a teacher at Bassick High School in Bridgeport.

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