The state’s broken school finance system has been the elephant in the room for years but after Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher handed-down his sweeping ruling in the CCJEF v. Rell school finance case in September, the imperative to fix the way the state doles out education funding has finally gained momentum.
There’s one problem: While everyone agrees something must be done, what that looks like is another story.
Facing the committee’s deadline, but unable to find a consensus, the state education committee pushed forward a school funding reform bill on Wednesday that was short on details. Really, what was passed is more a “vehicle” for a future bill than anything else.
The Hartford Courant has the story:
“If there had been greater unity around a proposal today, I would have been happy to move forward something with a little more meat on the bones,” said Rep. Andy Fleischmann, co-chairman of the committee. “But I didn’t find consensus this morning and I didn’t want to force it.”
The vote came after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made it clear Tuesday that he didn’t think the committee’s proposed reform of the education cost sharing formula, which included the shifting of $18 million to under-funded districts, was adequate.
Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton and a ranking member on the committee said after the vote: “I normally do not like to vote for bills that don’t have content. I voted for this …because I was rather concerned that if we did not get this bill out of this committee, we would not have a vehicle that would allow us to restructure the ECS formula. I believe that needs to be done. I believe it needs to be done quickly.”
To Commission A Cost Study Or Not?
While the education committee seemed to generally agree that Gov. Malloy’s school funding plan was not adequate, they disagreed on the merits of whether an adequacy cost study — in layman’s terms, a study to see how much it actually takes to educate a child — is necessary.
Currently, the committee bill, House Bill 7270, contains language that would require a cost study, a measure supported by both the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) and The Connecticut Coalition For Justice In Education Funding(CCJEF), the coalition of towns and stakeholders that filed the CCJEF v. Rell case against the state.
During Wednesday’s meeting, there were some legislators who expressed reservations about spending time and money, two things the legislature has little of.
” There may be a cost of maybe over $200,000 for the study,” said State Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26) during the meeting. “I’m going to vote no right now just to flag it, but that does not mean, of course, that we’ll be moving something that we can vote yes for going forward.”
State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143), another Republican member of the committee, voted yes but shared Boucher’s concerns. “I do personally have some problems with cost adequacy study because it’s expensive, it takes a lot of time, I think we should move more quickly than not, there are other examples that we could use from other states that are similar to us.”
There are other legislators that have vocally supported funding a study. Education Committee co-chair State Sen. Gayle Slossberg (D-1), whose also a member of the Appropriations Committee, expressed her support during an exchange with the state’s Secretary of the Office Of Policy Management Ben Barnes last month, according to the Connecticut Mirror.
“We should develop a foundation level that says this is what you need, this is what the cost is to educate a child in this state. And then we tinker with that based on children who need additional services or the poverty of their [district] or community or other things,” said Slossberg. “Is there any educational data that says to us this is the right amount for the children in the state of Connecticut?”
Barnes, on the other hand, doesn’t believe a study is worth the cost.
“I think to pretend that there is a formula or a scientific study that can produce a defensible per-pupil number that is better than just looking at what average per-pupil spending was in recent years,” said Barnes. ” I think is misguided, and I don’t support that approach to education funding formulas.”