Calling Connecticut’s system for funding public education “irretrievably broken,” CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg unveiled a bold new plan to ensure that all Connecticut school districts and students are winners.
Testifying before the legislature’s Education Committee today, he said the governor’s education budget proposal—which starts with a final dollar amount and then figures out how much to distribute to each district based on that limitation—“does it backwards and clearly should be rejected.” Waxenberg asked legislators to reform the state’s education finance system in a way that ensures adequate and equitable education opportunities for students in all districts across the state.
‘We need to hit the pause button’
The governor’s Education Cost Sharing (ECS) plan shifts significant costs for public education and teacher pensions to cities and towns already struggling. Under the governor’s plan, the vast majority of Connecticut cities and towns would lose critical state funding, with some municipalities facing cuts in aid close to $12.9 million. (Groton and Milford would be hardest hit.)
Among those testifying against the governor’s proposal were municipal leaders, more than two-thirds of whose school systems would be negatively impacted by the plan. West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor, speaking about high-quality education in her district, told the committee, “We believe we should be emulated, not dismantled.” West Hartford stands to lose $7.5 million under the governor’s plan, though the true impact could be almost double that amount after the state calculates excess cost-sharing grants that fund some special education costs.
Waxenberg noted that some communities faced with cuts in state aid would identify special education students receiving education supports elsewhere and “bring them back in district” to save money—at the expense of providing students the appropriate types of support not available in their own districts.
“We need to hit the pause button, maintain existing funding for a majority of our towns, and increase funding to the Alliance Districts across the state,” Waxenberg told the Education Committee, adding, “We need to determine the true costs of educating all students of varying needs across Connecticut. Once those factors are determined, we can create a funding system that delivers equity and adequacy.”
The state currently underfunds public education by more than $700 million per year.
In his testimony, Waxenberg advanced CEA’s plan to establish a fair, equitable funding formula; a commission to examine how Connecticut pays for public education; and a new Connecticut Achievement and Resource Equity in Schools (CARES) fund to reform the state’s current education finance system. The plan would identify sustainable revenue sources to fund education and end the persistent underfunding of ECS.
Funding public education in Connecticut is “serious business,” Waxenberg said. “We are facing serious issues, and we need serious people who have the courage and the conviction to take a stand, make the tough decisions, and create a public education funding system in Connecticut that is truly based on equity and adequacy. The future of our children and the future of our state depend on it. We believe our proposals, if adopted, will begin the courageous conversations that are necessary to ensure the future of our children and our state for generations.”
In a report from U.S. News & World Report released earlier this week, Connecticut ranked fourth in the nation for education.
“I’m suggesting to you that that’s in jeopardy with this new budget,” Waxenberg told the Education Committee.
Waxenberg noted that public opinion polls clearly show Connecticut residents support reforming the current tax structure and investing in public education.
“Thirty-six states have done that. I believe Connecticut has the best and brightest to do that as well. You don’t create policy through budget,” he said. “You create budget through policy.”