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Schools Woefully Underfunded, Formula Broken


November 23, 2012

A recent Connecticut Conference of Municipalities report concluded that the state's public schools are grossly underfunded and called for meaningful reform of Connecticut's school funding system.

The report stressed that school finance reform cannot be done on the cheap and that significantly more funding is needed to provide all students with a quality education. As the report declared, "the state should not sacrifice the futures of another generation of schoolchildren waiting for the courts to tell them yet again to meet its state constitutional funding responsibilities."

CCM estimates $763 million in underfunding. This represents only the gap between current funding and full funding under the state's Education Cost Sharing formula. However, the ECS formula itself is flawed and does not represent the true cost of education in Connecticut. In fact, as part of its recommendations, CCM calls for an "education adequacy cost study" to assess the actual cost. Doing so increases the number beyond $1 billion.

CCM's clear vision derives from the experience of its members: the municipalities that deal daily with escalating education costs and inadequate funding. Because of the state's underfunding of public schools, Connecticut's cities and towns, especially its poorer communities, are forced to deprive their schools of needed resources.

Children and teachers must endure large classes; insufficient textbooks, computers and other learning tools; buildings in disrepair; slashing of teaching positions; and the elimination of programs and courses.

In Connecticut and nationally, courts have consistently ruled that underfunded schools amount to constitutional violations of children's right to an education.

In New York, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Washington and many other states, courts determined that there is a causal connection between students' poor performance and inadequate school funding.

Unlike the modern corporate education reformers, who vilify teachers and educational experts, courts value their firsthand knowledge of school conditions and the resources needed to give all students an equal opportunity to learn.

When shown evidence of conditions in schools, courts consistently find what CCM contends without adequate funding, schools cannot provide an adequate education.

New York's highest court found that "tens of thousands of students are placed in overcrowded classrooms, taught by unqualified teachers and provided with inadequate facilities and equipment," representing a "systemic failure."

North Carolina's court found that the state's underfunding of schools was evident in the students' "dropout rates, their graduation rates, their need for remedial help, their inability to compete in the job markets and their inability to compete in collegiate ranks."

Courts have been equally clear that when schools are given adequate resources, learning improves.

In New Jersey, Maryland, Colorado, Massachusetts and elsewhere, increased spending on basic educational resources led to demonstrated improved achievement.

Despite vast differences among states, courts enumerated a remarkably consistent list of educational necessities, including: high-quality preschool, small class size, additional services for at-risk students, supports for teachers such as professional development, curriculum supports, supplies, equipment, adequate facilities, and adequate books and other learning tools.

As Stamford's mayor, Dannel P. Malloy understood the direct link between resources and achievement. He was a founding member of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, the plaintiff in Connecticut's pending school funding lawsuit.

By joining the coalition's lawsuit, then-Mayor Malloy acknowledged that the state cannot meet its duty to provide every child with a quality education without providing every school with the resources to meet each child's needs.

Sadly, as governor, Malloy has not made resolving the lawsuit and properly funding education a true priority. Instead, his new "solutions" for education are privately run charter schools and teacher evaluations based on test scores.

Yet charter schools, serving 1 percent of Connecticut's public school students, have dismal graduation rates and routinely exclude Latino students, English language learners and students with disabilities.

Furthermore, teacher evaluations based on standardized test scores have been proven to be wildly inaccurate and to massively increase the frequency of standardized tests children must take.

Instead of diverting funds to reforms that do not work, this governor has the historic opportunity to create a fair and equitable school funding system. Malloy's legacy will rest on how he deals with the education-funding crisis highlighted in CCM's report. More important, our children's futures depend on it.

Jonathan Pelto, a blogger at Wait, What?, is a former Democratic state legislator. Wendy Lecker is an lawyer specializing in school funding issues and the former president of the Stamford Parent Teacher Council.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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