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ECS Task Force Comes to Consensus on Recommendations

At its last meeting today, the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Task Force came to a consensus agreement on a report it will forward to the legislature and governor. The Task Force has been working for the last year and a half to to develop recommendations for possible ways to change how education funding in Connecticut is divided up by school district.

The specifics of a new education funding formula were the remaining piece of the committee’s work that it finalized today. Since the task force’s last meeting, members and staff have been running models using a variety of different indicators to determine the best way to meet their objectives to: 1. Comply with State Constitutional requirements for the equalization of educational opportunities, and 2. Help to close the achievement gap.

The main differences between the new proposed formula and the formula currently in use include how a town’s wealth is calculated, the way student need is determined, and an increase in the formula’s foundation.

Currently a town’s wealth is calculated using median household income, per capita income, and property values – with property values being weighted vastly higher than income measures.  The recommended formula increases the weight given to income in proportion to property wealth and drops the use of per capita income completely. Additionally, the current ECS formula has relied on increasingly outdated income data unchanged from the 2000 U.S Census. The proposed median household income data would come from the American Community Survey, which is updated frequently.

The proposed formula calls for using Free and Reduced Price Lunch data to calculate student need. Currently the formula uses Title 1 and English Language Learner data for that purpose. The committee considered a variety of indicators of student need, including Connecticut’s District Performance Index and HUSKY eligibility, but after looking at the numbers, agreed that Free and Reduced Price Lunch was the most effective measure of student need.

The proposed formula also raises the foundation from $9,687 to $11,754. It proposes dropping the Minimum Aid Ratio for non-Alliance Districts from 9% to 2%, and raises the Minimum Aid Ratio for Alliance Districts from 9% to 10%.

Any changes to the ECS Formula to come out of the legislature would most likely include a hold harmless provision – meaning no town would face the prospect of receiving less education funding in the future than it does now.

The target amount the Task Force has proposed for fully funding the formula is $2.7 billion. Ben Barnes, the Task Force co-chair and secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, acknowledged that that amount is probably going to be beyond the state’s ability to fund in the near future.

Barnes, the governor’s budget director, said, “We intend to take the Task Force’s recommendations very seriously. We want to include them in the governor’s budget proposal to the greatest extent that we can.”

Task Force members raised a few lingering concerns. State Senator Toni Harp and Meriden Superintendent Mark Benigni both wondered if the decreased weighting of property values in calculating a town’s wealth was fair to all districts.

Benigni also said he would like to further examine the effects on towns if the formula were to disaggregate Free and Reduced Price Lunch.

CEA Research and Policy Development Specialist Ray Rossomando said he hoped the state would consider in the future looking into how much it actually costs to educate a child.  “How much does it cost to educate a child from a  lower income family? How much does it cost to educate an English Language Learner? Children raised in poverty often lack access to books, camps, travel outside of their own town, and other factors that give wealthier children a context that improves their ability to learn and make sense of new information. Research has shown that poorer children’s lack of opportunities and experiences, when compared with their middle and upper class peers, are a big factor in creating the achievement gap. How much does it costs to make up for those lost experiences?”

Rossomando continued, “Instead of investigating what it costs to successfully educate a child in our state, what we’ve done is choose a number and back into it. I hope in the future there would be support for conducting an adequacy study to determine what it costs to educate a child. We need to know for the future so we can make sure we provide appropriate education funding.”

Task Force staff are finalizing the report. Once the final version is available, we will post it here.

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