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Cooking Up a New Approach to School Funding

If you’ve been hoping to learn just what the state task force on school funding will forward to the full General Assembly, you’ll have to wait a little longer.

While the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Task Force was expected to wrap up its work this week, at yesterday’s meeting a significant number of task force members urged “more time” to complete their work on a new formula. Len Miller, chair of the subcommittee working on a new funding formula, said his subcommittee still needs to see more runs of the data. “We want to be able to present at least one, probably two funding models to the task force but we’re not there yet,” he said.

Task Force Co-Chair Senator Andrea Stillman was responsive, saying if the task force’s recommendations aren’t fully “cooked yet,” then the group should take advantage of the additional time before the legislature’s opening January 9. According to Stillman, the task force needs time to make the report “as accurate as possible.”

The task force did move ahead at yesterday’s meeting, reacting to a draft report that invited many comments. Read a copy of the draft report.

One element of the new formula proposal that came in for particular scrutiny was the use of the District Performance Index (DPI) to measure student need.

In the current ECS formula, student need is calculated using the number of Title 1 and English Language Learners in a district. The DPI is calculated using CMT and CAPT data.

Task force member Ray Rossomando, CEA research and policy development specialist, said, “The state has struggled for a long time using imperfect measures of need. In looking at the DPI, it’s yet another imperfect variable. One problem with the DPI is that it relies on CMTs and CAPTs that won’t be around in two years when we move to testing aligned with the Common Core.”

Rossomando added, “Another problem with the DPI is that, the way it has been applied in the formula, it disproportionately increases student counts in wealthier communities – sending a greater share of funding to those communities.  We need to isolate DPI in the formula model as a variable to see how it affects the redistribution of funds.”

Senator Toni Harp said, “A really important question that we have to answer is, what do we do about wealthier towns that have an educational disparity. Whose responsibility is it? It’s a tough question, but one that we have to think out in a reasonable way and that we have to confront.”

“And resources are going to be even more limited and stretched in the future,” said Stillman.

Rossomando challenged the task force to make “sustainability” of school funding a priority. With a large state deficit, the task force is being driven by budgetary realities, rather than what would ultimately be best for public school students. Rossomando urged the committee to explore “locking up” funds that would be separate and distinct from the state’s general fund to ensure predictability and sustainability in school funding.

Task Force Co-Chair and Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes was quick to respond, stating that he has deep-seated resistance to the idea of setting aside a funding stream for education in a “lock box.” However, he encouraged task force members to continue to share divergent points of view and said they’d be included in the final report.

The task force plans to meet again, most likely after the holidays, to try to reach consensus on a final report.

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