In the State

The CEA Needs A Reality Check: When It Comes To Education Funding In Connecticut, There Have Always Been “Winners And Losers”

“When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

You may have seen this quote before. It’s been making its rounds across activist spaces on the internet for awhile. Normally, it’s used in reference to white privilege — and, there’s certainly a dimension of that in what I’m talking about —  but it also perfectly describes what’s going on when the state’s largest teachers union, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), tries to pedal the idea that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s new budget proposal will create “winners and losers.”

This week the CEA spent $100,000 on a clever new TV Ad that frames the budget plan as a dividing force — as if there weren’t already “winners and losers” when it comes to state education spending.

While Malloy’s budget plan isn’t perfect, are the unions really that out of touch with reality that they believe giving more money to Bridgeport, New Haven, and Waterbury kids is an “unfair” injustice?

Here’s What’s Really Unfair

As much as I appreciate the sentiment, we’re not, as the ad claims “in this together.”

Connecticut is one of the most racially and economically segregated states in the union. While we do a great job educating children in Connecticut’s more affluent suburbs, the state does abysmally when it comes to poorer children and children of color.

Let me put this in more concrete terms. Connecticut’s wealthy suburban students academically perform in the top-ten among states nationwide on international tests like the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and are competitive with countries like Finland and Japan.  Meanwhile, if you disaggregate the data and only look at low-income students, Connecticut does worse than any other state in the entire country: Think of it this way, Arkansas and Mississippi, two states known for poor student performance, do a better job of educating poor kids than Connecticut.

We are giving a first-class education to kids in Greenwich and Darien, but kids in the state’s urban centers are being ignored, stuffed into overcrowded classrooms, with dwindling extracurricular options, scrounging for basic supplies like pencils and paper — that what’s really “unfair.”

To give you a real life example of what I’m talking about, here’s an excerpt from a heartbreaking letter written by Bridgeport teachers a few months ago:

“The schools of Bridgeport’s surrounding suburbs have novels, and frogs and school plays. The schools that many of the teachers in Bridgeport attended had novels, and frogs, and school plays. Why not Bridgeport’s? If our society wants to claim that, regardless of where a person is born, he or she can succeed, it needs to eliminate this disparity…”

If the teachers union was serious about equity, they would be in support of Malloy’s funding formula, as it more accurately takes poverty and town wealth into consideration. That’s exactly what CCJEF v. Rell was supposed to be about, but of course, for them, it wasn’t.

Under The Current Formula, Rich Towns Raided Poor Towns

The CEA is a member of the coalition of groups that formed the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF), that sued the state over education a decade ago.

CCJEF sued the state arguing that the current school funding system was unconstitutional because it didn’t provide schools with “adequate or equitable” funding. Essentially, they wanted to force the state to not only spend more on education, but also make the way the state doles out education funding fairer.

In September, Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher handed down a sweeping decision that ruled, among many other things, that the state’s funding formula was “irrational” and “unconstitutional.”

This case is in appeals, but what Judge Moukawsher ruled is nevertheless important because it’s the basis of the governor’s school funding plan.

Moukawsher did not rule that the state had to spend more. He didn’t believe that the courts had the power to prescribe funding, moreover, what he found was that the state spent billions on education without really rationally putting the resources where it needed to be.

Here’s two excerpts from the ruling:

“Throughout 2016, the state faced a bone-crushing fiscal crisis. Thousands of state employees have been laid off. Resource are scarce and being carefully rationed. The state knows there couldn’t be a worse time to move education money from struggling poor districts to rich districts. But the state did it anyway in May 2016, when in the name of austerity it amended the 2016-2017 fiscal budget…

“An approach that allows rich towns to raid money desperately needed by poor towns makes a mockery of the state’s constitutional duty…”

Last year, the state moved $5 million in education funding from poor cities to rich towns. Not only that but because of a “hold harmless” clause added to the ECS grant, the state has been overpaying wealthier districts for the past few years. For example, Greenwich, one of the wealthiest zip codes in the country, was overpaid by the state $1.3 million. Meanwhile, some of the state’s lowest-income district lost over $5 million in funding. 

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The graph above is from a 2015 memorandum released by the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission.

Let’s Take a Second To Talk About What This Is Really About

Money Pleeeese

You’d think the CEA would be excited that Judge Moukawsher ruled in CCJEF’s favor and that Gov. Malloy is doing something about an intensely broken funding formula, but no.

After the CCJEF ruling was handed down, the CEA immediately went on the defensive. That’s because Mouskawsher called them out in his ruling, rightly pointing out that the state’s teacher evaluation system was “virtually useless,” with 98 percent of all teachers receiving high marks.

Despite being called out, the union has continued to push back against accountability, which is exactly what has made their real aim so transparent. 

The CEA isn’t spending $100,000 on TV Ad campaigns because they care about children’s’ futures. No matter how many classrooms full of smiling children they put into their ads, the union’s purpose is to protect the rights of teachers, not students.

This isn’t about rational spending or making sure poor kids get an equitable education. It’s about money. 




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