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State Funding of Local Public Schools: Change Shaping Up

The Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Task Force yesterday reviewed a set of objectives that it will use to select a final formula or formulas to recommend to the legislature. The task force’s Formula Subcommittee, which has been reviewing possible formulas, said it will have formulas for the entire task force to review at its next meeting, October 30.

Some of the key objectives the task force agreed to include the following.

  • Student performance measures should be incorporated in the ECS formula to ensure resources are available to properly support underperforming students.
  • The ECS formula must strive to direct state money inversely to a district’s capacity to pay for education.
  • The state should strive to fully fund the new or amended ECS formula within four years.
  • A part of the grant for underperforming districts should be contingent upon the State Department of Education approving districts’ plans to improve their performance.
  • ECS grants should be predictable.
  • Property value and income should be balanced in determining town wealth, and a three-year average of data should be used whenever possible.
  • A foundation rate should be derived through a strong and transparent rationale — including the elimination of minimum aid funding levels over a phase-down period.

In recommending that a new or amended ECS formula should be fully funded within four years, the Formula Subcommittee Chair Len Miller,  co-founder of the Fairfield County Collaborative Alliance, recognized that the state’s education funding will be constrained by its ability to generate revenue. “We’re trying to look at financial reality,” he said. “We don’t want this to just be an exercise. We want it to be as difficult as possible for the formula not to be fully funded – we don’t want waivers and suspensions.”

State Senator Toni Harp, co-chair of the legislature’s appropriations committee, agreed, saying “It only makes sense to look at funding a new formula in light of what we have available to spend.”

Ted Sergi, former state commissioner of education, said, “The more the state contributes to the whole education funding pie, the less unequal opportunities we’ll have. I’m not a fan of adopting a four billion dollar formula if we’ll never reach it.”

The Special Education Subcommittee also submitted a report to the task force that calls for the state to develop a new process for reimbursing school districts for excess special education costs. This recommendation would shift responsibility for high-cost special education students from the districts to the state, and create a sliding scale reimbursement based on a town’s wealth.

The task force plans to compile the subcommittee reports into a final report by the end of November.

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