TESTIMONY OF CAPSS RE H. B. No 7035 THE GOVERNOR’S RECOMMENDATIONS CONCERNING EDUCATION
Joseph J. Cirasuolo, Ed.D.
February 25, 2017
The CT Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) which represents the superintendents of CT’s public school systems and the members of the central office staffs of those systems has the following comments regarding the Governor’s recommendation for State financial support for public education in school years 2017-18 and 2018-19.
- CAPSS is supportive of the Governor’s proposal to move away from eligibility for free and reduced price lunch as the sole indicator of poverty for children. CAPSS, however, is concerned about substituting participation in the Husky Insurance Program for children as the sole indicator of poverty because no single indicator of poverty suffices for this purpose. No matter what the single indicator is, there will be poor children who will not be identified.
CAPSS, therefore, recommends that either eligibility for free or reduced price school lunch or participation in the Husky Program be the indicator of poverty for individual children.
- CAPSS is supportive of the Governor’s recommendation that there be a separate state grant program which re-imburses municipalities for costs actually incurred by schools systems that serve municipalities as those systems provide programs for children with special needs. The practice that this recommendation would replace has been to allegedly include state funds for programs for special needs children in a municipality’s Education Cost Sharing Grant (ECS). This practice has been problematic for the following reasons.
- The amount that has been included in the ECS grants has not been based on the actual expenditures that a school system has incurred.
- The amount that has been included in the ECS grants has not been at all transparent.
- The amount that has been included in the ECS grants has been such that it had to be supplemented by the Excess Cost Grant that was never fully funded.
- CAPSS, however, is not supportive of the Governor’s recommendation that the special education grant be distributed on a sliding scale ranging from 0% to 55% depending on the wealth of the community. The provision of programs for special needs children is mandated by the State which already imposes approximately 400 unfunded mandates upon school districts. Adding the provision of programs for special needs children to that list of unfunded mandates for those districts whose municipalities would receive from nothing or almost nothing is impossible to justify.
CAPSS, therefore, recommends that the distribution schedule be revised so that every municipality receives a reimbursement that is at least than 30% of its actual costs for programs for special needs students.
- CAPSS is supportive of basing a municipality’s Education Cost Sharing Grant on the number of students that the school system that serves the municipality has enrolled. At its very genesis, state financial aid to education was structured on a per student basis and it has been the State that has varied at times in the past from this practice.
- CAPSS is very concerned about the combined effect of the ECS distribution formula recommended by the Governor and his recommendation that in effect municipalities pay for 1/3 of the State’s obligation to fund the Teacher Retirement System. The combined effect is a net reduction in state financial aid for education of a little less than $400M. What this reduction will cause in most of CT’s school districts is a major reduction in the educational programs offered to children. Programs that will be affected in one way or the other and in one district or the other are:
- All Day Kindergarten
- Psychological and academic support services for children who do not yet qualify for special needs services but who will qualify soon after these support services are eliminated or curtailed.
- Extra-curricular programs that are a major source of school engagement for many children.
- Curricular programs in which few children enroll but for whom those programs are a major source of academic engagement
- Efforts to keep class sizes at a level that makes it possible to meet the individual needs of children.
In addition, buildings and grounds maintenance projects will be postponed and this will simply make the projects more expansive and therefore, more expensive in the future.
Finally, the move of many districts towards a mastery based personalized learning (MBPL) approach to teaching and learning will be slowed and in some cases stopped altogether. This will be particularly tragic because it is in this work that the hope of finally closing the immoral achievement gap between children who are financially poor and those who are not resides. Curtail this work and closing the achievement gap will become very difficult if not impossible.
CAPSS, therefore, recommends that no deduction be made from the State grant for any municipality in the amount of any contribution towards the Teacher Retirement System. This will provide for every municipality an amount of state financial assistance for education that is greater than what the Governor recommended without in any way reducing what he has recommended for the least wealthy communities in the State.
- CAPSS recognizes the need to study the Teacher Retirement System to make sure that it is actuarially sound and that it does not place upon the State a financial burden that will be crippling in the future to the provision of State programs, assistance and services. The Governor’s proposal to in effect compel municipalities to shoulder 1/3 of the financial burden for the System does nothing to make the System sound and sustainable. All it does is transfer from the State to local municipalities the result of the fact that the System has not been studied for soundness and sustainability.
CAPSS, therefore, recommends that the State initiate a study of the Teacher Retirement System, specify a group that will have representatives of teachers, administrators, superintendents of schools, boards of education, municipal governments, those with proven expertise in government pensions for educators and others and charge the group with the task of recommending to the Governor and the State Legislature by 1/1/18 recommendations for making structural changes in the Retirement System so that it is rendered sound and sustainable.
CAPSS recognizes the fact that the State is presently in a challenging financial situation. We, however, see no purpose in engaging in discussions that seek to place blame on any person or groups of individuals for the present situation. There will be plenty of time for placing blame later.
Instead, we seek to identify how the State got into the situation in which we find ourselves so that we can avoid making the same mistakes again and so that we can construct a path for ourselves out of this situation. It is CAPSS’ conviction that no plan to remedy the present situation can be successful if it does not include robust state financial support for public education. To that end, we are willing to work with any and all those who have the same objective.