The irrational inequity of ECS administration continues

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Whether viewed through the lenses of wealth, District Reference Groups, or student achievement, Gov. Dannel Malloy’s recently announced distribution of Education Cost Sharing grant money has obvious flaws and inconsistencies that defy logic and lead one to the conclusion that this is just an extension of the arbitrary and capricious administration of the program that has plagued it in the past.

Consider the charts and the observations below, based on these downloadable files.

Malloy interim grants by cut  Malloy interim grants by SBAC scores
Malloy interim grants by wealth decile Malloy interim grants by percent cut
District Reference Groups

On the DRG chart, things start consistently, as they should be since DRG ratings group towns according to similar characteristics.   Hence, all 10 towns in DRG A have been cut back 100 percent.

However, the consistency deteriorates in the ensuing groups.  For example, in DRG B, 32 towns have lost 100 percent. However, Hebron loses 90 percent, Ellington and Tolland escape at 80 percent, while Salem and Suffield lose 70 percent.  Meanwhile, Somers has been cut only 50 percent! So much for similarity.

The inconsistency continues and expands.  In DRG C, 22 towns lose 100 percent.  Wallingford and Newington are at 90 percent, with Watertown at 80 percent.  Then there are Mansfield and Windsor from whom the governor takes just 40 percent and 0 percent respectively.  Clearly, the towns in this DRG are not all being treated similarly.

It would be wrong to expect that because DRG D is toward the middle of the grouping range that the governor has not deprived its towns of their entire grant.  Twenty-six lose 100 percent.  Of course, there are two that lose 90 percent, six that lose 80 percent, and six  that lose 70 percent.  And just as sure, there are four at 50 percent, and even one (Canterbury) at 40 percent.  Again, we see a range of inconsistency in a group of similar towns.

Directly in the middle of the pack is DRG E with Canaan, Plymouth, Salisbury, and Union at the 100 percent cut level.  And there is Windsor at zero percent.  In between are four towns at 80 percent cutback, three at 70 percent and 50 percent respectively, and seven towns at 40 percent cutback.  Where is the similarity here?

Mercifully, there are only three schools in DRG F, and all three survived the governor’s axe.  So too did the 13 towns in the “lowest” reference groups, H and I.  But even at the lower levels there is inconsistency.  While 12 towns in DRG G lose 0 percent of their dollars, four get chopped deeply by the governor:  Enfield (70 percent), Groton (70 percent), Torrington (80 percent), and Stratford (100 percent).  Why the gross difference?

It would appear that the governor’s cutback formula, if there was one, did not consistently reflect the District Reference Groups.  Perhaps the other charts will show a more rational and consistent methodology.

Wealth Deciles

How closely do the ECS cuts by Gov. Malloy align with the levels of wealth of Connecticut towns?

There is some consistency in the upper wealth levels.   All 16 towns in the first wealth decile were cut 100 percent by the governor.  Sixteen of the 17 towns in the second wealth decile were cut 100 percent, but Stamford, Malloy’s home town, was held harmless at 0 percent.  Likewise, in wealth decile three, 16 towns were cut 100 percent, but Norwalk was held harmless at 0 percent.  Finally, in wealth decile four, all but two towns were cut 100 percent.  Hebron at 90 percent and North Stonington at 80 percent were the exceptions.  Here the deviation is less drastic in range despite the increase in number of exceptions.

Things are less clearly defined in the middle levels.   In decile five 12 towns lost 100 percent, and five lost somewhat less (Bolton, 90 percent; Franklin and Tolland, 80 percent; Salem and Suffield, 70 percent).  Again, in decile six, fewer towns – eight of 17 – lost 100 percent. Two were at 90 percent, one at 80 percent, and three at 70 percent.  Here, however, there were three radical deviations with Somers at 50 percent and both Bloomfield and Windsor at 0 percent.  This wide range strongly tests the assumption that wealth level was the main criterion in the governor’s thinking.

In decile seven, it is no surprise that 14 towns were cut less than 100 percent.  However, that there were two towns, Beacon Falls and West Hartford, getting 100 percent whacks was definitely unusual at this wealth level.  The other 14 cuts were made at 90 percent (one), 80 percent (five), 70 percent (four), and 50 percent (four).  The diversity of cut levels in this decile causes further questions regarding the governor’s method.

Adding to the doubt is the range and diversity of cuts in decile eight.  Plymouth, Stratford, and Wethersfield lost 100 percent; Danbury and East Windsor lost 0 percent.  In between, seven towns lost 70 percent or 80 percent, and five towns lost 40 percent or 50 percent.  Where is the logic of wealth here?

In the next to last decile, there is again diversity in the cut levels.  Not surprisingly, seven towns lost 0 percent and seven others lost 40 percent or 50 percent.  But Enfield and Thomaston were cut 90 percent, and two other towns lost 70 percent.  Does this seem rational for the second lowest level of wealth?

And in the lowest wealth decile all 17 towns were spared any cuts … ah, no…., only 16.  Torrington’s ECS grant was slashed a massive 80 percent!    What?! Why?

Although there is some measure of consistency in the treatment of the highest and lowest wealth deciles, the range and diversity of cuts within and among the others demonstrates that the governor’s ECS cuts do not necessarily correspond to the levels of town wealth.  Except for the cuts made in the first, second, and tenth deciles (with one obvious exception in each), the governor’s reductions are not consistent with the comparative wealth of the towns in the other deciles.

Student Achievement in the Smarter Balanced ELA Assessment

The governor may have in some way considered student achievement results in determining his proposal for ECS cuts.  Here is a look at how those cuts align with the four quartiles of the Smarter Balanced ELA3+ results for 2016-17.

First Quartile, 42 towns, 19.4 – 36.5  percent

Percent Cut No. of towns Percent Cut No. of towns
100 3 90 1
80 2 70 2
50 1 40 3
0 30

Second Quartile, 42 towns, 36.6 – 54 percent

Percent Cut No. of towns Percent Cut No. of towns
100 15 90 3
80 7 70 7
50 7 40 3
0 0

Third Quartile, 43 towns, 54.1 – 73.6 percent

Percent Cut No. of towns Percent Cut No. of towns
100 33 90 0
80 4 70 4
50 1 40 1
0 0

 

Fourth Quartile, 42 towns, 73.7 percent – 88 percent

Percent Cut No. of towns Percent Cut No. of towns
100 37 90 1
80 1 70 2
50 0 40 1
0 0

 

Clearly, all of the towns from which governor took no ECS dollars are in the lowest quartile of student achievement.  Although the number of towns from which he took 100 percent increases in each quartile, it is equally clear that 18 towns that lost all their funding were in the lower half of the achievement range.

Moreover, the cut levels within and among the quartiles are not consistent.  If student achievement counts toward ECS funding, then how do eight towns in the lowest quartile lose over 50 percent of their funding when three towns in the top two quartiles keep 50 percent of theirs?

It is curious that no town lost 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent, or 60 percent, or that all the cut percentages ended in zero.  This indicates the use of a simplistic formula– an arbitrary “easy fix” — not something appropriate for the complex and vital subject of education cost sharing.

Individual Cases and Comparisons

Torrington is in the lowest wealth decile and DRG G.  Its 2016-7 ELA3+ result (43.2 percent) was in the lowest quartile.  Yet, its ECS funding was cut 80 percent by the governor.  Meanwhile, Stamford is in the second highest wealth decile and DRG F.  Its 2016-7 ELA3+ was in the lowest quartile but slightly higher (48.1 percent) than Torrington.  Its ECS funding was not cut at all by the governor.

Stratford is in wealth decile 8 and DRG G.  Its 2016-17 ELA3+ result (48.1 percent) was in the lowest quartile.  Its ECS funding was cut 100 percent.  Meanwhile, East Windsor, also in wealth decile 8 and DRG G with only slightly lower ELA3+ results (43.5 percent) than Stratford, but still in the same lowest quartile, was cut 0 percent.

Plymouth and Plainville are both in the eighth wealth decile and DRG E.  Plymouth’s ELA3+ results were 55.5 percent — just lower than Plainfield’s 56 percent.  Yet the governor slashed Plymouth’s ECS by 100 percent and Plainville’s by only 80 percent.  More shocking is the governor’s treatment of Montville, in the same wealth and DRG categories as Plymouth and Plainville, with a slightly higher 59.2 percent ELA3+ score.  He pares just 50 percent of Montville’s ESC funding.  Where is the consistency here?

A more subtle comparison involves Woodbury and Hebron.  Both are in DRG B and wealth decile 4.  Both are in regional school districts.  Woodbury’s ELA3+ rating of 60.66 percent was slightly lower than Hebron’s 65.6 percent.  Yet Woodbury was cut a greater percentage (100 percent) of its ECS funding than Hebron (90 percent).

William A. Monti is a member of the  Woodbury Board of Finance.

What do you think?

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