With seven meetings under their collective belts, members of the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Task Force appointed by the governor are zeroing in on strengths and weaknesses in the state’s current school funding formula.
The testimony of Rodriguez came during a task force meeting that explored how state policymakers can best identify how wealthy or poor a city or town really is, and thus in need of state financial assistance. Kevin Sullivan, a former state senator and now commissioner of revenue services, also addressed the task force. He said the ECS formula is underfunded by $725 million, and there’s no escaping the fact that the state has never put adequate “fuel into the ECS engine.”
State underfunding of local public schools has been a common theme in the work of the task force. At public hearings in New Haven and Waterford, citizens repeatedly pointed out that the state needs to do more to support local schools.
“It’s not acceptable to underfund education,” said Erika Haynes, a mother of four from Windham.
CEA’s Political Liaison Ray Rossomando showed the panel charts highlighting the distortions to the ECS formula and how they have disproportionately impacted public schools across the state, especially those in our poorest communities. Rossomando pointed to a report “Improving the ECS Formula,” conducted by economist Dr. Ed Moscovitch, which shows that underfunding the ECS formula shortchanges our schools by $1.2 billion.
“The impact of underfunding is exacerbated by rising educational costs associated with the increasing demands that have been placed on our schools and our teachers,” said Rossomando.
Mark Benigni, superintendent of Meriden Public Schools and a task force member said Connecticut was a trailblazer in education funding and we need to know how the formula was meant to work originally before there were any changes.
“We had a formula that was a leader in the nation. Tweaks to the formula have not put money with the poorest kids in this state,” said Benigni.
In Norwich, the situation in the public schools is so bad that Joe Stefon, Norwich’s director of curriculum and instruction, told the task force they’ve been forced to make severe program cuts.
“The tax base in Norwich cannot afford to fund our educational programs to meet all of our needs. Currently towns like Norwich with low fiscal capacity are least able to fund education, so our schools continually are underfunded,” he said.
Ben Barnes, co-chair of the task force, says the ECS formula has never functioned the way it was originally intended. “We need to understand what we need today in order to address the educational challenges we have now and come up with a funding formula that gets there. I am not going to deny that more money would be an advantageous component to that,” said Barnes.
“If Connecticut is truly going to provide substantially equal educational opportunity and continually enhance its economic competitiveness, it is incumbent on the state to meet its financial commitment to sufficiently, fairly, and fully fund its schools,” said Rossomando.
At the New Haven public hearing, New Britain parent Esther Santana presented the task force with an apple pie small enough to fit in the palm of her hand. She told task force members that the state needs a larger pie in order to serve sufficiently sized pieces to cities with struggling schools like New Britain. Santana expressed deep concern that any proposal to send more state money to charter schools would be extremely detrimental. “Our neighborhood public schools need nourishment. It’s where the vast majority of kids go to school,” she said.
“The pie is too small.” That’s what Esther Santana, a parent from New Britain, told ECS Task Force members at a public hearing in New Haven. She was referring to the limited amount of state education money available that, when split among all Connecticut cities and towns, ends up providing a struggling district like hers with a tiny “slice.”