ECS isn’t broken: It just needs to be funded properly.
That was the consensus from speakers at the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Task Force hearing held in Waterford last night.
“It’s not acceptable to underfund education,” said Erika Haynes, a mother of four from Windham. Haynes was one of a dozen people who spoke during the public comment portion of the hearing.
CEA’s Legislative Coordinator Ray Rossomando presented to the task force. He showed the panel charts highlighting distortions to the ECS formula and how they have disproportionately impacted public schools across the state, especially those in our poorest communities. Rossomando pointed to a report “Improving the ECS Formula,” conducted by economist Dr. Ed Moscovitch, that shows that the ECS formula shortchanges our schools by $1.2 billion.
The charts show the current poverty factor using Title 1 for the red bubbles, representing the original ECS formula and the blue bubbles, representing actual funds received. The green bubbles show the formula using free and reduced priced lunch, which more accurately represents actual poverty levels in our communities, and is closer to the fully-funded ECS formula.
“The impact of underfunding is exacerbated by rising educational costs associated with the increasing demands that have been placed on our schools and our teachers,” said Rossomando.
Sharon Palmer, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Connecticut agreed, “We need a way to fulfill funding commitments Connecticut made 40 years ago, and we need to use free and reduced lunch for counting poverty.”
Mark Benigni, the superintendent of Meriden Public Schools and a task force member, said Connecticut was a trailblazer in education funding, and we need to know how the formula was meant to work originally before there were any changes.
“We had a formula that was a leader in the nation. Tweaks to the formula have not put money with the poorest kids in this state,” said Benigni.
Research shows there is a direct correlation between poverty and student achievement. Mary Loftus Levine, CEA executive director and task force member, said one of the many things the state should consider is providing wrap-around services to help schools with societal problems. “We can’t expect schools to solve all of the societal problems in Connecticut and until we deal with it together as a community, the gap will continue to grow,” said Loftus Levine.
“ECS is the root cause of where Windham is today and the economic challenges we face today,” said Haynes, referring to state intervention in the school district. She said, “It’s unfair and economically discriminatory.”
“Money matters,” said Palmer, “and those who say we can simply reshuffle the deck of money cards are unequivocally wrong. Educational outcomes in Connecticut are determined primarily by the color of money.”
The situation in the Norwich public schools is so bad that Joe Stefon, Norwich’s director of curriculum and instruction, told the task force they’ve been forced to make severe program cuts.
“The tax base in Norwich cannot afford to fund our educational programs to meet all of our needs. Currently towns like Norwich with low fiscal capacity are least able to fund education, so our schools continually are underfunded,” he said.
Still, many believe the ECS formula has value. Senator Andrea Stillman, co-chair of the task force, said, “We need to see if we can make it better. Or if it is determined that it’s totally out of date, then what do we have to do to make it more appropriate?”
Ben Barnes, co-chair of the task force, said the ECS formula has never functioned the way it was originally intended. “We need to understand what we need today in order to address the educational challenges we have now, and come up with a funding formula that gets there. I am not going to deny that more money would be an advantageous component to that,” said Barnes.
“If Connecticut is truly going to provide substantially equal educational opportunity and continually enhance its economic competitiveness, it is incumbent on the state to meet its financial commitment to sufficiently, fairly, and fully fund its schools,” said Rossomando.
As a town council member for Windham, I chaired a town council ad-hoc committee called Strategic Initiatives for Financing Teaching (SIFT). One of our key findings was “The SIFT Committee unanimously believes that ECS is unfair and economically discriminatory, and urges the town to advocate for changes in funding in education at the state level.”
In my testimony at the ECS Task Force hearing in Waterford, I requested the committee consider several items:
1. Create a student-centric funding formula that is based on a fundamental core-instruction amount, weighted with factors that impact the cost to a child’s education, such as poverty, English language learning, and special education. I oppose modifying the ECS, believing that we need a fresh start, rather than changing a formula already altered many times.
2. Recommend the state commit to an amount at least equal to the intended funding of the original ECS sum total
I do not believe the answer is simply increasing funding. Underfunding education is not acceptable to me, but pouring additional funds into a system using a convoluted and unfair formula will not be effective either. I strongly advocate for a new beginning in the distribution of state education funds, applying a student-centric methodology, and concurrently increasing funding.
Windham Town Council