The committee charged with developing recommendations to change how the state distributes education funding met yesterday to consider a new formula it may recommend in its final report. The Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Task Force is looking to wrap up its work by the end of the month and send its recommendations on to Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly.
The changes to the formula that the Task Force’s Formula Subcommittee proposed would be phased in over four to six years and include how student need and town wealth are calculated. See the complete proposed changes here.
To illustrate how the formula changes would affect the state, the subcommittee presented three hypothetical models for how the state could implement the new formula. Variables among the models included the availability of new ECS funds and whether the state would guarantee that towns would receive at least the same ECS grant they received in a prior year.
Task Force member Ted Sergi, former state commissioner of education, said the proposed changes include two concepts new to Connecticut: making predictable what a town’s grant will be for the next four years and establishing a more achievable target for the ECS grant. In the 23 years it has used the ECS formula to calculate its share of education costs the state has never fully funded the ECS grant.
“For 30 years we have had an ECS formula with an unachievable goal, and it hasn’t served us well,” Sergi said.
Senator Andrea Stillman, ECS Task Force co-chair, said she agreed that “predictability is always a great thing.” But at the same time, she said, “The state would have to make a very big financial commitment. That would challenge the legislature quite a bit.”
Formula Subcommittee Chair Len Miller said, “We would like a strong commitment — we think this is important. But we do understand that no one can predict an economic downturn like what happened in 2008.”
Miller said that new education funding legislation should give the legislature options in an extreme budget year. But he said that the subcommittee felt strongly that statutory language should be worded carefully so that education funding would not be subject to “political winds.”
At its next meeting the Task Force agreed to take a look — town-by-town — at the formula models its subcommittee presented.
Task Force Co-Chair and Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said, “Clearly there will be some winners and losers.” He said he hopes, “that we can all look at those individual results as being reflective of a proposed way to measure need when examining why numbers changed for one community or another. We need to try to think about this as dispassionately as we can.”
Brian Mahoney, the State Department of Education’s chief financial officer, said the new formula’s method for calculating community wealth accounted for most of the changes in the models.
Sergi pointed out that even if the state continued to use the existing formula but updated town wealth data, there would be significant changes in what towns receive. Because of how the statute is written, Connecticut is still using data from 2000 to calculate town wealth.
With the state likely to experience a deficit this year, it’s uncertain whether the state will be able to increase ECS funding.
Responding to reporters’ questions prior to yesterday’s meeting, Barnes said, “Education is clearly a huge priority of the governor’s, and I expect you’ll see that reflected in his budget, but it would be premature for me to comment on what he will propose.”
The ECS Task Force’s final meeting is scheduled for November 27. Ultimately it will be up to legislators and the governor to decide whether or not to follow the Task Force’s recommendations.