This was written by Wendy Lecker, a former president of the Stamford Parent Teacher Council and former staff attorney at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, plaintiffs in a school funding lawsuit in New York. This first appeared in the Stamford Advocate.
By Wendy Lecker
Many of us have not heard of of the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Formula, Connecticut’s system for allocating money to our public schools. As one father admitted at the ECS Task Force Meeting on Thursday in Bridgeport, he never gave it any thought until his child started kindergarten.
Roughly, this is how the formula works. It starts with a foundation amount, which is supposed to represent how much money it takes to educate one child with no special needs. Then the amount is adjusted
based on the number and needs of students in a particular district. Students living in poverty, students learning English and students with disabilities all need more resources to learn, and those resources cost money — up to four times the cost of educating a child with no needs. The formula is also supposed to consider a municipality’s ability to pay.
If one of these components is inaccurate, then the state is not giving the proper amount of money to a municipality for its schools.
In Connecticut, all of these components are grossly inadequate. The foundation amount is not connected to the real cost of education. It does not represent how much it costs to educate a “no needs” child. The adjustments for student needs, or “weights” do not account for the cost of educating children with additional needs, and the measure of town wealth is skewed.
We heard it Thursday.
A Bridgeport high school teacher spoke of scrambling to find chalk, and of not having enough paper to give students during their final exams.
In another school in Bridgeport, there are not enough books, so teachers must copy as much as they can before they reach their quota of paper.
In Norwalk, librarians in a school ran an after-school program to help children whose parents do not speak English with homework. Facing a huge budget gap, those librarians’ jobs were eliminated.
Society’s failures fall on the doorstep of our schools. Children routinely suffer anxiety over possible eviction or a parent’s unemployment. Teachers teach students who have children themselves; and those who rely on backpacks of donated food to ensure a meal.
Without enough social workers, school nurses and guidance counselors to mitigate these ills, children cannot concentrate on learning.
It is easy to see how the resource gap is directly related to the achievement gap.
Inadequate state funding does not only affect schools. Connecticut is the state most reliant on property taxes to fund education. Taxpayers are stretched to the limit and officials often must face the choice of hiring a police officer or teacher.
Municipalities, paying all they can, still cannot fill in the gaps in our schools.
It is amazing that in Connecticut, one of the richest states, schools cannot afford to pay for substitutes, light bulbs, copy paper and textbooks, let alone social workers, AP courses, art, music, world language, preschool and services for students in need.
It is also incredible that we punish our students and teachers for failing to meet academic targets without first ensuring they have these basic tools to learn.
Why hasn’t paying for our schools been the first order of state business?
The recent legislative session was trumpeted as a “bold” move in education reform. Yet it was wasted on imposing more standardized tests on our children, “choice” and other unproven methods they claim will raise achievement. Not once did the state honestly examine how to ensure our children get basic resources in every school. Why?
One Bridgeport resident Thursday had the answer. “I have never heard a judge say to someone who committed a crime, `sorry we don’t have money to lock you up.’ Why is it then, that when a child says he wants an education, we say, `we don’t have money to give’? We are telling kids, `you can go to jail, but not to Yale.’ And there are kids in Bridgeport who don’t even know that Yale is in Connecticut.”
It is a matter of priorities.
Until our legislature and governor make funding our schools a priority, Connecticut will continue to be a state where, as one woman noted, in one town they worry how many students will be accepted to the Ivy League and in another a few miles away, they worry how many students will just make it to graduation.
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