Category Archives: General Information

3 Important Education Issues to Watch as the General Assembly Heads to Adjournment

The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF] is paying close attention to three key policy issues before the General Assembly that will dramatically impact state support for K-12 public education.

These three issues are (1) education funding in the state budget for the new biennium; (2) a new mandate that towns and cities pay for some of the costs of teacher retirement; and (3) establishing a new task force to study the Education Cost Sharing [ECS] formula.

The regular session of the General Assembly will adjourn on January 5.

[1] Education Funding in the State Budget for the New Biennium

At over $2 billion, the Education Cost Sharing [ECS] grant is the single largest state grant to local school districts and municipalities.

Under current law [PA 17-2, June Special Session], ECS funding is scheduled to increase as “full funding” is phased in through FY 28. Towns that are considered overfunded under the formula are scheduled to have ECS grant reductions annually through FY 28, while towns that are under-funded under the formula are scheduled to have ECS grant increases annually through FY 28.   The phase-in was supposed to begin in FY 18 but was delayed until FY 19. 

One component of the ECS formula calculation is a town’s number of low-income students.  Under current law, the low-income measure is the number of Free and Reduced-Price Lunch students. 

The Governor proposed to (1) increase ECS funding by $17.7 million in FY 20 and by $39.4 million in FY 21; (2) change the student need measure from the number of Free and Reduced-Price Lunch students as reported by school districts to a number of such students certified under the federal National School Lunch Program; and (3)  greatly accelerate the phase-out of funding for towns scheduled to receive ECS decreases.

The Appropriations Committee proposed to (1) increase ECS funding by $37.6 million in FY 20 [$20 million more than the Governor] and by $78 million more in FY 21 [$38.6 million more than the Governor]; (2) maintain the current Free and Reduced-Price Lunch student count provided by school districts as a student-need factor in the ECS formula; and (3) reject the expedited acceleration of phased-in funding cuts to eligible towns proposed by the Governor. 

The Bottom Line for ECS Funding:  While the ECS grant is estimated to be underfunded by over $600 million TODAY, and the current phase-in will add only $345 million in total ECS funding by FY 2028, the Appropriations Committee state budget proposal for ECS funding at least keeps faith with the funding increase commitment made by the Governor and General Assembly in 2017.  This funding proposal should be supported.

[2] Mandated Municipal Contributions to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS)

Pension costs for state employees and teachers are the fastest growing-expense facing state government.  The most significant portion of these costs is teacher pensions.

The Teacher Retirement System [TRS] was established and is operated by the State.  The TRS is funded by the State and contributions from teachers.  For over 70 years state government grossly underfunded the TRS to reduce the bottom line of successive state budgets and/or divert such funding to other spending programs.  The State has only recently begun to deal with this festering, self-inflicted fiscal wound. 

It is important to note that teacher retirement funding by the State is included in annual calculations of the state-local share of K-12 public education costs.

The Governor proposed to: (1) defer a total of $8 billion in combined funding increases needed for the state employee and teacher pension systems from now through 2032.  This would “save” the State $640 million in contributions combined over the biennium but result in an almost $28 billion liability to be borne by future taxpayers between 2033 and 2049; and (2) require towns and cities to pay, for the first time, some of the costs of teacher pensions.  The combined up-front cost to municipalities over the next two years is $73 million.  Beginning in FY 22, a complicated formula would determine each municipality’s annual cost-sharing payments.

The Appropriations Committee and the Finance Committee proposed to: (1) not include the municipal cost-sharing mechanism in their proposed spending and revenue plans, thus leaving resolution to budget negotiations; and (2) include in their budget proposal the $640 million in saved pension contributions as proposed by the Governor that appears to assume new municipal cost sharing payments for teacher pension costs.

The Bottom Line for Mandated Municipal Cost-Sharing of Teacher Pension Costs:  Yes, the self-inflicted pension obligation crisis facing the State is frightening but let’s put it in a state-local finance context.  Connecticut is one of the most reliant states in the nation on the property tax to fund K-12 public education.  The ECS grant today is underfunded by over $600 million.  The current statutory plan is to phase in a total ECS increase of only $345 million by 2028.

The price tag of a municipal cost-sharing mandate for teacher pensions will only grow and (1) negate over-all increases in ECS funding; (2) exacerbate the budget tensions at the local level between municipal and school service needs; (3) transfer a state spending responsibility onto the backs of already overburdened property taxpayers; and (4) force towns and cities to cut services, raise property taxes, or both.

Now is not the time to enact a new teacher-pension cost-sharing mandate on municipalities and their residential and business property taxpayersThis new mandate should be opposed.

[3] Task Force to Study the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Formula

The Connecticut Coalitionfor Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF] is the largest and most diverse education reform coalition ever established in our state.  CCJEF fought a 12- year legal battle to require the State to meet its state constitutional responsibility to provide an adequate and equitable educational opportunity to every public-school student in every school district in Connecticut.

In January of last year, a deeply divided Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in CT Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF] v. Rell that the State was meeting its constitutional responsibility to provide a “minimally adequate” and equitable educational opportunity to our public-school students.

While acknowledging that tens of thousands of at-risk students are not receiving the educational assistance they need to succeed, the court majority decided that the individualized educational needs of these students are constitutionally irrelevant.

After CCJEF’s historic legal battle, the CT Supreme Court majority decided they were powerless to intervene on behalf of our disadvantaged students and poorer school districts.  The Court passed the buck back to the other two branches of state government. 

Substitute House Bill No. 7355 (File No. 625), “An Act Concerning a Study of the Education Cost Sharing Formula.”, is currently before the General Assembly for action.  This proposal would establish a task force to review the ECS formula and, among other things, consider (1) the effect of such formula on the distribution of education funds to urban, suburban and rural towns; and (2) the effect of the current phase-in of funding on the predictability and sustainability of state education funding to towns.

The Task force is required to report its findings and recommendations no later than January 1, 2021.

As currently drafted, the proposed Task Force is provided no funding to accomplish its charge.

The Bottom Line on a New Task Force to Study the ECS Formula:   CCJEF fought unsuccessfully in the courts for the development of a new ECS formula that (1) is truly responsive to the diversity of student and school district needs; and (2) is truly fully-funded over time to help meet those needs.  Most experts agree that the current ECS formula and phase-in funding plan fall short.

A task force to study the ECS formula, as called for in Subst. House Bill No. 7355, should be supported and amended to provide needed funding to accomplish its charge.

Connecticut continues to tolerate some of the most economically and racially segregated school districts in our nation, as well as one of the largest student achievement gaps in the country.

The 2019 General Assembly, despite fiscal challenges, has an opportunity to support the above legislative actions and put Connecticut on the path to education justice for all our K-12 public school students

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Jim Finley is the president and founder of Finley Government Strategies [www.fgs-ct.org]. He serves as principal consultant to the CT Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [www.ccjef-ct.org]. He was an expert witness in the historic CCJEF v. Rell education adequacy and equity case. Jim spent over 34 years with the CT Conference of Municipalities, including a long-time stint as chief lobbyist and seven years as executive director and CEO.

JF 3-6-19

NPR: Waiting for Education Ruling

It’s been more than a year since the state Supreme Court heard arguments in an important lawsuit challenging the way Connecticut funds public education. Plaintiffs continue to wait for the high court ruling. 

Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding versus Rell could be the most far-reaching state education lawsuit since the Sheff vs. O’Neill desegregation case. A coalition of municipalities, boards of education, parents and teachers say that under Connecticut’s constitution, the state must provide children with an equitable and adequate education. They say that means that students should be prepared for college and to become effective citizens. A Superior Court judge dismissed the “adequacy” portion of the lawsuit. The plaintiffs appealed to the CT Supreme Court.  Five justices heard oral arguments in April 2008.  A few months ago, the court added two more judges to the case, so a full seven-member bench will ultimately issue the decision.

Yale Law School Clinical Professor Robert Solomon is the attorney for the plaintiffs. He’s not surprised by the long wait for a ruling. “Given that Kerrigan, the same sex marriage case took equally as long and it’s a major constitutional decision I as a litigant would hope we would have heard by now but I can’t say its shockingly long.”

Lawyers for the state argue that it’s the responsibility of the legislature and not the Supreme Court – to address quality of education issues. Once a decision is announced, the case will go to trial.

Listen to the NPR story by Diane Orson

Courant: Court Considers: What is a Good Education?

Simon Bernstein sat in the front row of the courtroom Tuesday as state Supreme Court justices, an assistant attorney general and two law students grappled over the meaning of his words.

Back in 1965, Bernstein had been largely responsible for crafting an article added to the state constitution guaranteeing “free public elementary and secondary schools.” A former Hartford alderman and Bloomfield school board member, Bernstein’s experience with local school funding debates had convinced him of the need to make education a fundamental right.

“I thought I was giving a simple clear statement without any unnecessary words that could be misinterpreted,” said Bernstein, now 95 and a retired judge.

But on Tuesday, the exact meaning of those words were up for debate as the state Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit challenging the way the state funds education.

The lawsuit was brought against the state on behalf of 10 families with children in public schools and the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, a group of education and municipal organizations.

It claims that the state fails to maintain a suitable and substantially equal education system by providing inadequate resources and conditions for education in many school districts, leaving students unprepared for jobs or continuing education and likely politically and socially marginalized.

Read the entire Hartford Courant story by Arielle Levin Becker

NPR: School Finance Lawsuit

Connecticut’s Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a special appeal Tuesday-part of the school finance case brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding.

In 2005 a coalition of municipalities, boards of ed, parents and teachers known as CCJEF filed a lawsuit, charging that Connecticut’s public financing system violates students’ constitutional right to an equitable and adequate education. Last year, a Superior court judge dismissed the “adequacy” part of the lawsuit.; CCJEF appealed straight to the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Much of the hearing centered around – how to define an “adequate” or “suitable” education. Two Yale Law School students argued on behalf of the plaintiffs. They pointed to underperforming schools in Bridgeport and Meriden and said the state’s constitution gives these students the right to be prepared for a world beyond high school.

Read the entire NPR story by Diane Orson

CT Post: ‘Quality’ education focus of lawsuit

Thousands of Connecticut children are receiving inferior educations that are failing to adequately prepare them for later life, Yale Law School students charged Tuesday before the state Supreme Court.

Poor educational quality is holding children back in cities such as Bridgeport, while other school systems, especially in the wealthier suburbs, are preparing their children to join the 21st century’s global economy, they said.

“The problem is that at some schools, students aren’t learning,” said Neil Weare, 27, a third-year law student. “When they graduate, they simply cannot read. They don’t have the math skills to go on to college or even to get a meaningful living-wage job.”

Weare and David Noah, a second-year law student, were allowed to argue before the state’s highest court as part of the Yale Law Education Adequacy Project, savings plaintiffs millions of dollars.

The project filed the suit in November 2005 for plaintiffs including Nekita Carroll-Hall, of Bridgeport, who has two children in the local school system. The suit was rejected at the lower court level, setting the scene for Tuesday’s make-or-break hearing in a packed courtroom.

“No matter how you describe it, the purposes of public education are clear and these purposes are to prepare students to — after graduation — be able to get a job or go on to college, to be able to be effective citizens within our democracy,” Weare said. “We’re asking the court to decide whether the state is meeting its constitutional duties.”

“Thirty years ago, this court recognized that Connecticut schoolchildren have the fundamental right to education,” Noah said. “The question before the court today is whether that right has any meaningful content.”

Read the entire Connecticut Post story by Ken Dixon

Yale Daily News: Law students to advocate for schools

Two Yale Law School students will advocate for more than 600,000 Connecticut schoolchildren before the state Supreme Court in Hartford today.

For the two students in Yale’s Education Adequacy Clinic, David Noah LAW ’09 and Neil Weare LAW ’08, more than a year of work will culminate today as they present their oral argument in a case that will decide whether Connecticut’s constitution, which has guaranteed the right to an education since 1965, entails some baseline quality of education. The students will argue it does, on behalf of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, the lead plaintiff in the suit.

The state Supreme Court has previously read the constitution to include the right to equal educational opportunity – but some opportunities may be more equal than others, according to the students.

“Just equal could be equally poor,” said Brian Savage LAW ’09, another student in the clinic. The suit contends that there must be a minimum standard.

Read the entire Yale Daily News story by Issac Arnsdorf

NH Register: High court to hear arguments on legality of school funding

Yale law students will argue before the state Supreme Court today against what they claim to be a state educational funding system that unconstitutionally denies students in poorer municipalities “suitable and substantially equal educational opportunities.”

On Nov. 22, 2005, 15 Connecticut families and the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding filed suit against numerous state parties, including Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the state Board of Education, asking the court to declare the current education funding system unconstitutional.

“The level of resources provided by the state’s education funding scheme is arbitrary and not related to the actual costs of providing a suitable education. By failing to maintain an educational system that provides children with suitable and substantially equal opportunities, the state is violating plaintiffs’ constitutional rights,” the suit charges.

Read the entire New Haven Register story by Elizabeth Benton

CT News Junkie: Do CT Students Have a Right to an “Adequate Education”?

The Connecticut Supreme Court will be asked Tuesday to determine if Connecticut schoolchildren have a right to an adequate education.

Yale Law students filed the case against the state more than two years ago on behalf of 15 students and their families that feel the quality of education is falling far short of its intended goal. The Attorney General’s office is expected to argue on behalf of the state.

“By recognizing that each child in this State has the right to an adequate education, the Supreme Court can empower the Legislature to provide our children with the kind of education they deserve,” David Noah, one of the law students who will make the oral arguments to the court, said in a press release.

At the press conference Monday, East Hartford Mayor Melody Currey said the fact that the state could argue there is no right to an adequate “education under the Connecticut constitution strikes me as preposterous.”

“Surely out beloved Attorney General has gotten the State’s position all wrong!” she added.

Nekita Carroll-Hall, one of the plaintiff’s in the case, said “I have seen how grossly underfunded the Bridgeport schools truly are.” She said the class sizes are too large and books, computers, and instructional staff are too limited.

Read the entire CT News Junkie story by Christine Stuart

CT Law Tribune: Group Fights For More School Spending

A nonprofit advocacy group will go before the state Supreme Court this week to push its claim that the state’s failure to adequately fund public schools has irreparably harmed thousands of schoolchildren.

Two Yale Law School students, Neil Weare and David Noah, from the school’s Education Adequacy Clinic, will argue Tuesday on behalf of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF).

“I went to public schools growing up,” Weare said. “I want to ensure the opportunity I was able to have in public school are available to all students, no matter where they are.”

“The question the Supreme Court is deciding is, does the right to education guarantee the right to a suitable education for every child,” said Brian Savage, another clinic member. “If not, it’s an equally deficient education for everybody.”

The suit was filed by the Coalition for Justice in Education Funding against Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the state in 2005. Following a motion by state officials, Hartford Superior Court Judge Joseph Shortall set aside three of the four complaints in the lawsuit, and ruled that schoolchildren had no right to “suitable educational opportunities” under the Connecticut Constitution.

CCJEF then successfully petitioned the Supreme Court for an expedited appeal.

Read the entire Connecticut Law Tribune story by Christian Nolan