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Adamowski expects appeal of CCJEF decision; Duff says ‘no winners or losers’

Quintard meeting 16-0901 046

State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25).

NORWALK, Conn. – Cautious optimism marked Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski’s reaction Thursday to a landmark court decision on Connecticut’s system of educational funding.

State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25) called it an “opportunity.”

On Wednesday, Hartford Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher issued a 90-page decision in the lawsuit filed by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Educational Funding (CCJEF), calling the state’s system “irrational” and giving the state 180 days to propose new funding formulas.

CCJEF decision 16-0907

“Please keep in mind that this decision is ‘appealable’ by the State to the Connecticut Supreme Court and an appeal is expected,” Adamowski wrote to NancyOnNorwalk. “Nonetheless, today’s decision was a good step forward on the path to compel greater equity in education funding regardless of where a child lives and attends school. Norwalk’s efforts to develop equitable student-based funding that follows the child are consistent with this desired outcome and we hope it can contribute to a new model for future state funding formula.”

The 180-day deadline means the proposals must be submitted in the middle of the 2017 legislative session.

Duff, who is Majority Leader, released a statement:

“This is a moment not to be squandered, but an opportunity to put Connecticut on the cutting edge of educational greatness for generations in the future. It is well known that we have some of the best school districts in the country with amazing teachers all across the state. One of the many reasons families settle in Connecticut is for our educational opportunities. Yet, we face hurdles of a stubborn achievement gap and graduate some students who are neither prepared for a highly technical job market nor rigorous college work.

“The bottom line is children from all across the state should receive the necessary resources to ensure success. We must be creative, bold and strategic.

“Where children are not prepared for kindergarten we must roll out universal preschool. As a long-time supporter of family resource centers, Connecticut should bolster them in every school in our priority school districts. Children on free and reduced lunch, English language learners and special education students – groups that have historically needed our attention must be taken into account and funded based on need and not zip code.

“It is important that there are no winners or losers but a chance to fund education that will produce results and success in the classroom. Every child should have a chance to succeed.

“Change is never easy. Make no mistake, this will be hard and frustrating, but necessary. Before anything comes to a vote, we need to listen to people all over Connecticut. Their input and suggestions will be the most valuable.

“This issue is far too important to rush into, band aid or wax poetic. Our children’s future, their success and our state’s economy are counting on us to get it right.”

 

Many Norwalkers have called the state’s Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula unfair. Moukawsher said in his decision that the state hasn’t been using it.

“In place of the formula, since 2013-14, the legislature has simply adopted set dollar amounts of aid for each town,” Moukawsher said. “It did the same thing for several years before 2013-14 by overriding the formula and simply adopting the same numbers year after year. The state says it can do this because while you can’t tell why districts get what they get the state has still been giving much more money to property-poor towns than to property-rich towns.”

Another excerpt:

“Throughout 2016, the state has faced a bone-crushing fiscal crisis. …  The state knows there couldn’t be a worse time to move education money from struggling poor districts to rich districts. But the state did it anyway in May 2016 when, in the name of austerity, it amended the 2016-17 fiscal year budget.

“Under the changes adopted, education aid to the state’s poorest districts – with the exception of Danbury and Stamford – was cut by over $5.3 million:

Ansonia

$82,361

Bridgeport

$905,293

Derby

$39,412

East Hartford

$245,381

Hartford

$1,003,800

New Britain

$230,590

New Haven

$770,653

New London

$129,072

Meriden

$301,307

Norwalk

$57,755

Norwich

$181,023

Waterbury

$668,272

West Haven

$603,559

Windham

$133,117

———

$5,351,595

“In the same bill, while significantly cutting funds for some wealthy districts – without formula or explanation – the state also protected education aid increases for other comparatively wealthy towns in the state amounting to over $5.1 million in extra money:

Berlin

$ 59,301

Branford

$304,456

Canton

$10,050

Chester

$7,858

Cromwell

$68,585

East Granby

$40,618

Glastonbury

$263, 457

Haddam

$99,496

Hamden

$67,521

Middlebury

$103,096

New Fairfield

$3,812

Newtown

$322,147

Orange

$266,396

Rocky Hill

$430,201

Seymour

$181

Shelton

$686,007

Simsbury

$288,579

Trumbull

$331,250

West Hartford

$1,494,623

Wethersfield

$480,424

Woodbridge

$32,760

Woodbury

$289,888

———

$5,170,282

“The plaintiffs certainly think this is wrong, but the state says that $5 million isn’t much money … it broadcasts that the legislature does not feel bound to a principled division of education aid. Ifthis view of the state’s constitution won out, the legislature would be free to make today’s $5 million tomorrow’s $50 million and the next day’s $500 million.”

Mouskawsher, at the beginning of the decision, wrote:

“It is for the General Assembly to decide how much to spend on schools, but the state must at least deploy in its schools resources and standards that are rationally, substantially, and verifiably connected to teaching children. … many of our most important policies are so befuddled or misdirected as to be irrational. They lack real and visible links to things known to meet children’s needs.”

11 comments

Fred Wilms September 9, 2016 at 8:02 am

I believe that ECS change is inevitable. Even if the Attorney General appeals the decision to the Supreme Court, I believe the Legislature will be required to take action. Whenever that moment comes I plan to submit a proposal that is fair to all (and most especially to Norwalk). One avenue I am exploring is to link town ECS aid based on DRG rankings. The State already has an objective system in place to grade each town based on socioeconomic factors. DRG A is the least socioeconomically stressed while DRG I is the most socioeconomically stressed. Norwalk is in DRG H. I believe we should provide the highest per pupil ECS allocation to DRG I towns, then next to DRG H, and so on down to DRG A. I believe this system offers an objectively fair approach, meets the requirements of the court decision, and last but not least – benefits Norwalk in the most fair way possible. As a quid pro quo to the DRG A, B C, etc, towns who may stand to lose funding, I suggest they be compensated via mandate relief – such as the Minimum Budgetary Requirement, among others. While no doubt other proposals will come forward, I believe the DRG ranking approach is worthy of serious consideration.

On a parallel front, I believe the entire Norwalk delegation of five state reps + state senator should team together in a bipartisan fashion to promote a strategy. I also suggest we align ourselves with Stamford, which is also a DRG H town and also has been shortchanged by ECS. The more we work together the more impact we will have on the final bill (and more votes). Candidly our entire delegation has NOT worked together on this issue – but avoid having things like ego or party labels get in the way, I have no pride of authorship in this process. I am a freshman legislator and willing to work collaboratively and supportively with our more senior legislators. Let’s just get this done.

Lisa Thomson September 9, 2016 at 8:03 am

A moral victory to be sure, but I am skeptical. The same legislators (Fleichman et all.) that we testified in front of back in 2012 are still there. With Bridgeport (who gets the lion’s share of current ECS money) claiming they still need more, coupled with a financially ‘broke’ state, I don’t see how this moves the needle for Norwalk anytime soon.

The way Norwalk Schools get more funding is by growing the grand list with smart development. Everytime we give tax credits to developers who get into trouble or not, we’re adding more kids to the classroom but not generating any revenue to pay for it. It seems Norwalk has adopted the same winning strategy as the state! Sorry, just the way I see it.

EveT September 9, 2016 at 8:54 am

Wow. West Hartford was given almost $1.5 million extra in the 2016 rejiggering, while Hartford lost $1 million.
How could our legislators in good conscience do that???
The NY Times has a set of graphs showing every district nationwide in grade level achievement x parental socioeconomic status. West Hartford is near the top (1.5 grade levels above average) while Hartford is down near the bottom (1.7 grade levels below average) with Detroit, St. Louis and Cleveland.
See “Money, Race and Success” by Rich, Cox & Bloch April 29, 2016 http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/04/29/upshot/money-race-and-success-how-your-school-district-compares.html
The state’s defense argument that giving more money to poorer districts is not guaranteed to result in higher test scores is so disingenuous it doesn’t pass the straight-face test.

EveT September 9, 2016 at 8:57 am

P.S. Norwalk is near the middle in the NY Times achievement x income graph at 0.1 above average. But, as we know from living here, some schools in Norwalk are better off than others.

Notaffiliated September 9, 2016 at 9:02 am

I few thoughts. Why does it take 90 pages of paper to convey a decision?

Why do we bury our heads in the sand on the high presence of illegal immigrants in our city? What is the and the impact on our schools,taxes, and those student citizens who could use special attention?

I don’t get it.

Piberman September 9, 2016 at 9:15 am

We ought not forget that the Court’s ruling declared CT’s ECS system was convoluted and that even with a super-Democratic majority our Legislators for nearly 8 years have made noise but failed to create a fair and equitable system. Sen. Duff plays a leadership role here. ECS reform has been a familiar campaign theme but without the Clourt’s ruling ECS reform would remain just a “talking point” by our Legislators.
We ought give credit to former Mayor Alex Knopp for taking a lead role. It’s not often that a former Norwalk Mayor performs a distinguished public service outside our City. Qualifications in our elected officials do benefit our State and City. Let’s hope the BOE can invite Attorney Knopp to address the BOE in the near future regarding the full import of the Court’s decision. Finally Rep. Wilms is correct that Norwalk’s Legislators, lead by the Democratic majority, ought speak with one voice on ECS reform. Not just make campaign talk about “historic opportunities”. That’s just “campaign talk”. Our local Legislators have not led the ball here. Nor have “campaign visits” by hour Mayors to Haratford. But former Mayor Knopp as a lead attorney in the Yale assisted legal effort did and brings both honor and genuine commitment to our City and State. That distinguished service ought be celebrated by our City. Even though there are many miles to run before our Democratic run Legisalture creates acceptable ECS reform. Hopefully in our generation.

I got 'Duffed' September 9, 2016 at 3:03 pm

No where does Bob Duff speak about pulling for his constituency, his home district. The exerpt from Duff, talks about what is best for CT as a whole. Hey Bob, are you a CT Reg. or an elected rep. of Norwalk???

Nonpartisan September 9, 2016 at 7:43 pm

I know this will be controversial but I truly believe The difference in achievement from one school to the next Is more a function of family values and preparedness to learn than how much money is spent.

What we need is smart development. Not more subsidized housing. This is regardless of how the final ecs formula is written.

EveT September 9, 2016 at 10:15 pm

@Notaffiliated, what would you have us do about illegal immigrant children in our schools? The Supreme Court decided years ago that children have a right to attend school whether they’re in the USA legally or not.

M. Jeffry Spahr September 10, 2016 at 10:24 am

CCJEF Follow Up:
Let’s explain what the judge said – and how he got there. As we know in an overall sense he did not really conclude that education in Connecticut was underfunded. However, he did opine that in order for the State to fulfill its obligation it must develop a system and standards that is “rational, substantial, and verifiable”. As for the status quo (that he observes we find difficult to move away from even when we see that it is not working) he observes that “many of our most important policies are so befuddled or misdirected as to be irrational”. For example, he cites the fact that our graduation and advancement standards are so loose that some students receive a diploma that is not worth the paper it is written on (my words). He also says that our review and pay practices for our teachers does not promote improved performance in the work place (“State standards are leaving teachers with uselessly perfect evaluations and pay that follow only seniority and degrees instead of reflecting need and good teaching”, p. 2).
In the area of special education he observes as follows: “With the state requiring expensive services but doing nothing to see they’re going to the right people in the right way, special education spending is also adrift” (p. 2)[He also notes elsewhere that the State has a ‘direct and non-delegable’ duty to provide this education (pp. 3-9).
Regarding the level and breadth of services that the State feels needs to be provided under the banner of ‘Special Education’, he states that it “has a pretty broad view of the program. It says special education requires extensive services ranging from tutoring services for students with mild dyslexia to immensely expensive transportation and therapy for profoundly, multiply-disabled children”. He observes that the State’s “vision” is “well-reflected” in a particular case decision cited by the State – Timothy W. v. Rochester, NH. In that case the child “had almost no cerebral cortex and could respond to light and other things just enough to let people know he was experiencing them” (quoting CCJEF). The Court stated that the decision in the Timothy W case (requiring that the student be provided with some level of education) “has contributed to this and other states telling school districts to transport, care for and provide extensive services for multiply-disabled children regardless whether the state can do anything that would look to most people like education”. He then states that this “is a phenomenon that costs immense sums, but conventional education seems resigned to it”.
He goes on to say that the cost of special education in our state is “staggering” and then observes that the State pays much less than it claims to (and much less than it ought to) to defray these local expenses. The State’s excuse is that these services are to be decided on (and, I guess, therefore funded) locally. However, he notes that this literal passing of the buck (or at least the bill) to the local educational agencies (LEA’s) is the result of the laws that the legislature itself passed (“It certainly can’t say that its hands are tied when it tied the knot itself”, p. 7).
Witnesses (Superintendents from Bridgeport and East Hartford) observed that since they are required to provide (and pay for) the services decided upon in the PPT, they “have less to spend on other children”. It was noted that the only students on whom more money is being spent are the special needs students – and that with a non-expanding budget, a District has been “constantly stripping resources from the student population as a whole to meet those things like special education over which he is powerless” (p. 74). One expert who testified (Reschly) stated that “special education spending is crowding out spending on general education in Connecticut and across the country” (p. 75).
Ok – so we know this. I do not think that any parent of a special needs child does not realize that spending on special education is massive and increasing and impacting the resources left to spend on other students. I get it.
Thus, the Court observed one of “the two problems with special education serious enough to warrant constitutional concern” is “the problem of spending education money on those in special education who cannot receive any form of elementary or secondary education” (the other ‘problem’ is that “the evidence shows that getting picked for special education in his state is mostly arbitrary and depends not on rational criteria but on where children live and what pressure the system faces in their name”)[I also think it’s odd to refer to a child as being ‘picked’ for special ed].
The testimony presented was that the Districts need to choose which child will receive special ed and related services and what that level of attention will entail. The witness (Reschly) however testified apparently that in the tough case, like the student in Timothy W, “schools never make a judgment call at all” (p. 75) (“Yet, school officials never consider the possibility that the education appropriate for some students may be extremely limited because they are too profoundly disabled to get any benefit from an elementary or secondary school education”, p. 76).
The Court noted that the expert “struggled to say why hundreds of thousands of dollars might be spent on someone profoundly disabled without even considering whether it’s a good idea while for other disabled children the schools have to shape programs to fit their prospects and circumstances”. Finally he stated that Districts go ahead with this level of funding “to avoid the ‘degree of pushback’ they would get by saying limited or no services were appropriate” (p. 76). Accordingly, the witness stated that schools “run away from” the hard decision as to whether or not to ‘pull the plug’ (so to speak) on the funding and/or effort needed to address severe or multiple disabilities – without any assurance that any progress will be attained (or is even attainable).
As the Court put it: “The call is not about whether certain profoundly disabled children are entitled to a ‘free appropriate public education’. It is about whether schools can decide in an education plan for a covered child that the child has a minimal or no chance for education, and therefore the school should not make expensive, extensive, and ultimately pro-forma efforts” (p. 77). The Court observes that the law does “not always” require that extensive services be provided. It gives, as an example, the case of a child in a coma and observes that for this child an “appropriate” education service might be little more than “evaluating the child’s condition and following the proper procedure to recognize that no educational service is appropriate because the child cannot benefit from it” (p.77).
At first blush this frank observation may be alarming. However, I believe it is realistic. The issue raised here is not whether a District should blindly pour resources into a case where there is no chance for progress, but who makes that call and what criteria needs to be employed (and, as a corollary, who gets to define this criteria).
As an analogy, many people may have a ‘Living Will’ within which they specifically state that they do not wish for there to be any ‘extraordinary life sustaining measures’ undertaken even by well-wishing family members on their behalf. But who wants to make that call?
This whole conversation brings about a certain level of discomfort. While we might all academically recognize that there are cases where it would not be ‘productive’ (Q: what word do you use in this context that is not offensive?) to invest extensive amounts of resources for no gain, no one wants to make that call. And, while we might agree to this where there is no chance of gain (or education), what about the situations where there is little chance of gain or where there is only a chance for little gain. What odds of success need there be or what level of success must be envisioned before the funding is given the ‘green light’? These decisions are the educational equivalent of being asked to make the decision to ‘pull the plug’ when a person is on extended life support with little or no chance of revival.
These are very difficult considerations to run around our heads. The matter is made worse when critics refer to these educational resources triage decisions as ‘throwing good money after bad’ using money in special ed that could be ‘better spent’ on others. In addition, is there something to be said that in some extreme cases it might be more ‘humane’ to allow the child to relax rather than to force the child into some situation that has little chance of long term gain with a lot of short term pain?
This brings me to the crux of my concern – it is not my position that endless amounts of funding must be blindly thrown at every special education student regardless of any prognosis for progress. My concern is: who gets to make that call – and what criteria are they going to use?
In addition, the decision has called into question the nature and breadth of the ‘educational’ services that a District need provide. It questions whether or not some of these ‘social services’ , for example, are related to the education of the child. The Court does not take the position that these services are not called for or needed or desired. Instead, it questions whether or not they must be paid for out of the school’s special education budget (“(S)chools shouldn’t be forced to spend their education budgets on other social needs – however laudable – at the expense of special education children who can learn and all the other children who can learn along with them”, p. 80).
The Court concludes (on this point) that “(t)he first step is for schools to identify and focus their efforts on those disabled students who can profit from some form of elementary and secondary education. This will require school districts to make necessary judgments”.
This is where my cause for concern comes in. We need to carefully watch what standards and criteria are being developed, by whom, and how they will be applied. In other words, who gets to pull the educational plug and using what criteria? Accordingly, we need to be vigilant in monitoring this aspect of the decision.
[This leads to the second aspect of the court’s decision wherein it discusses the lack of uniformity in special education identification and how this impacts the funding and expenses. I can address this at a later time if needed]

Piberman September 11, 2016 at 10:00 pm

If ‘past is prologue” the court mandated ECS and Special Ed funding issues will not be resolved by our part time State Legislators working with modest staff resources within 6 months. More likely is that several years of “judicial oversight” will be required with ECS and Special Ed as key issues in the upcoming elections. We should estimate the influence of CT public teacher Unions in objecting to the ruling. But one result ought be achievable fairly quickly – minimum per student education outlaysacross our various school districts and similarly for Special Ed students. At day’s end it’s likely that Norwalk’s ECS funding allotment will not suffer major change. But those in our major welfare cities will receive major funding outlays.

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