Every year legislators on the Education Committee deliberate over many bills that could have a big impact on children, parents, and educators. This legislative session, special education is receiving particular attention.
Among the many bills the Education Committee heard testimony on today were one proposing a new way of funding special education in Connecticut and one that provides very prescriptive rules for parent observation, including allowing a minimum of 16 hours per parent in a school year.
Fairfield Education Association President and math teacher Bob Smoler took the time away from his busy teaching schedule to come up to Hartford to speak out on that second bill.
Smoler emphasized that parental involvement is integral to children’s educational success.
“Parents’ active involvement in their child’s schooling is often the difference in the extent of a child’s progress. That being said, this bill stands to materially impact the education environment of classrooms in Connecticut in a negative way,” Smoler said.
He was one of several educators and representatives of education stakeholder groups to say that, as currently written, the bill could jeopardize teachers’ ability to ensure a safe and productive learning environment. Smoler was particularly concerned about the disruption this bill could present to classrooms if multiple parents are observing a class for upwards of 16 hours over the course of a year.
“Parents already have the ability and right to meet with administrators and teachers concerning their children,” Smoler said. “Many districts have policies and procedures for parents to observe their children in school in a non-disruptive way.”
He recommended that, if legislators want to ensure appropriate parental observation in classrooms, “the best course of action would be to require districts to develop their own policies.”
Special Education Funding Proposal Raises Concerns
Legislators also heard testimony on a bill that proposes the establishment of a “captive” insurance system that would address the volatility associated with unanticipated fees from high-cost special education outplacements. Under this proposal, the state would redistribute about $580 million of existing ECS and special education funding to a new “cost cooperative” account. Towns would also pay their usual special education expenditures into this account, plus a risk fee much like an insurance premium.
CEA Research and Policy Specialist Ray Rossomando said that the root cause of the state’s education funding problems are not special education costs, but “our state’s insufficient commitment to fund what it has determined to be a fair contribution to local schools. The state currently underfunds public education by more $700 million. We urge the legislature to turn its attention to this critical underlying issue, rather than one small symptom, such as the unanticipated costs of student outplacements.”
CEA has proposed the creation of a CARES Fund (Connecticut Achievement and Resource Equity in Schools) to address the root causes of school underfunding. The CARES Fund would be outside of the general fund and paid for by a dedicated revenue stream covering the state commitment to ECS, special education, and early childhood education.
The bill also calls for the creation of a task force to conduct a study on the feasibility of implementing this new way of funding special education.
If legislators do choose to move the bill forward, Rossomando recommended that they include national experts in school finance on the task force and reconsider its overall make up to include groups representing parents and teachers. He also recommended that legislators make the charge of the task force far less prescriptive.
The Connecticut School Finance Project, a group founded by former staff of the Connecticut Council on Education Reform, a corporate-backed education reform group, is behind this special education funding proposal.
Rossomando said, “The task force composition is unusual in assigning a seat to the sole private entity proposing the change (the CT School Finance Project). Unlike other organizations
commonly named, this private entity is not a member organization representing the collective views of education stakeholders affected by the proposed change. Also, it is not clear who or what organizations are funding the private entity. This is troubling given that the task force is charged with creating a plan on behalf of the state. The public has a right to know who is funding plans affecting public education and spending public dollars.”