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Is The Way We Fund Our Local Public Schools in For Big Change?

The co-chair of the new task force reviewing the state’s education financing system said today that the door is wide open to new approaches.  Ben Barnes, the task force co-chair and Office of Policy and Management secretary, said the task force should consider a significant departure from the current Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula. “We should not limit ourselves. I expect we come in with open minds. That being said, we are the land of steady habits, and ECS has its supporters and its strengths.” Barnes added that he thinks an important aspect of the task force’s work is trying to make the ECS formula “more responsive to our policy goals such as closing the achievement gap.”

Top state leaders, including Governor Dannel P. Malloy, appointed members of the task force earlier in the summer.  CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine represents CEA on the panel.  The charge of the panel is to develop recommendations on possible ways to change how money is divided up by school district.

Senator Andrea Stillman, the task force’s other co-chair, said, “I don’t know any legislator that is happy with the formula. We should make it even better, and make it more appropriate for the times.”

State Department of Education Chief Financial Officer Brian Mahoney gave an overview of the formula.  He noted the significant statutory revisions that have been made to the formula over the years. The state has consequently rarely had an opportunity to fund the real formula, he said.

Ensuring that education aid goes to funding public schools and not replacing municipal commitments to local public schools is a valuable goal, according to Barnes.  “We should keep our eye on having the money improve educational outcomes,” he said.

CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine expressed concern that towns have shifted local education funds to non-educational purposes.  She pointed to a February 2011 report from CT Voices for Children. The report indicated that in fiscal year 2010, towns were allowed to spend as much as 50 percent of their increase in ECS funding on non-education purposes.

The task force’s next meeting will take place October 6.  For more information, visit the task force’s website.

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