“This is investing—investing in our state’s future and the future of our students,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen, describing a plan that would create a commission charged with pursuing an open, transparent, and equitable funding system for public schools—one of the state’s greatest assets.
Representing the seven-member Connecticut Coalition for Public Education (CCPE) at a news conference Wednesday, Cohen called for the creation of the Connecticut Achievement and Resource Equity in Schools (CARES) Commission. CARES would develop a long-term, strategic plan for addressing the state’s constitutional obligation to fund public schools, ensuring that all students have the opportunities to succeed.
“As lawmakers continue their work in this difficult budget climate,” she said, the coalition provides a means for “addressing education funding in a timely, deliberate, transparent manner, providing ongoing analysis and recommendations for the future.”
The governor and legislative leaders have been meeting behind closed doors to come up with a plan to balance the state budget.
“We are concerned that decisions about education funding will be made hastily,” said Cohen. “Rushing to judgment and creating a new formula without public or stakeholder input, discussion, or public hearing, and without public accountability, could result in unintended consequences and undermine confidence in the outcome. We cannot afford to have that happen. The public does not want that to happen.”
Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools, noted that, while CCPE is made up of diverse associations, its members all agree on the necessity of adequately funding an appropriate, successful education system.
“This is why CEA introduced the concept of CARES to the coalition,” Niehoff said.
Comprising parents, educators, policymakers, and experts in education, taxation, and equity, the nonpartisan CARES Commission would examine disparities in needs and resources among school districts and develop a fair, stable, and reliable funding formula as well as identify a specific funding source, Niehoff said.
Joe Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, explained that the coalition is advocating for a funding system based on “what it actually costs to educate students.” Establishing the CARES Commission, he said, would represent “a major step forward.”
Stephen McKeever, AFT Connecticut vice president for pre-K – 2 Educators, added that districts need reliable, adequate financial supports in order to adopt best practices in a rapidly changing, high-tech environment. He also noted that even a one percent cut to a district’s education budget translates to the loss of multiple teaching positions or entire school programs.
“We already have districts laying off teachers and programs being cut,” Cirasuolo acknowledged, adding that the lack of transparency and reliability in state funding for school districts “throws planning out the window.”
Patrice McCarthy, deputy director and general counsel of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, stressed that a new state funding formula proposed by the CARES Commission would be based on research and careful deliberation and would pass the test of constitutionality.
Cohen agreed. The CARES Commission, she said, would avoid creating a system of winners and losers, instead focusing on making all Connecticut students winners.
The seven members of CCPE are the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, the Connecticut Association of Schools, the Connecticut Education Association, the Connecticut Federation of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers-Connecticut, and the Connecticut Parent Teacher Association.