ECS: If you’re like most Nutmeggers going about their day, you’ve probably never heard of it. If you’ve been following education in Connecticut, you’ve seen the acronym pop-up in headlines, particularly if your town is fighting for dollars for its schools. But, for most of us, ECS is a confusing mystery.
To peel back the veil a bit, the ECS stands for Education Cost Sharing, and was intended upon inception over 25-years ago to act as the main formula for determining state education funding to cities and towns.
In short, the Educational Cost Sharing formula was designed to determine how, and at what level, our districts and schools would receive state funding for education. It was meant to provide more state dollars to lower-income districts that had less ability to pay for education locally and served more high-needs students who needed greater resources for their learning needs. Unfortunately, the ECS was never fully-funded, has been legislatively tweaked numerous times, and doesn’t live up to its intended purposes. The fact is that we are no longer following a formula at all. ECS is a myth.
There’s a lot wrong with the system
School funding is the foundation of the education system, and at best the ECS serves as a shaky one. For example, it’s wildly inequitable, as baseline funding in similar towns varies between $2,000 and $8,000 per student – that’s a $6,000 gap!
What’s more–ECS doesn’t even apply to many of our schools. In fact, Connecticut has at least 11 different ways that we use to fund schools and students. In some cases, the state pays for the same student twice. When a student attends a charter school, for example, their home district receives funding for that student through the state funding formula (ECS) and their charter also receives a separate amount from the state for that student. This makes ECS illogical, inefficient and outdated.
Almost every other state has figured out a better way of funding schools of choice. CT is one of only a very few states treat that charter students and traditional school students differently, both in law and dollars. This way of approaching school finance results in highly inequitable differences in funds for a child’s learning.
In fact, we don’t actually follow a formula at all
The reality is that the ECS model has been largely abandoned. The state of Connecticut no longer follows a formula when determining how and at what level schools receive state education aid. Instead, the state now makes a series of block grants to districts that are simply “inspired” by the ECS formula, and based on historical funding that was largely driven by the politics of the time. This is not a sustainable or fair way of funding our schools.
Connecticut is changing and ECS hasn’t kept up. Demographic data shows that more Connecticut children are living in poverty. Although this poverty is concentrated in our cities, it is also stretching beyond Connecticut’s urban centers and into our suburban communities. Research shows children living in poverty need additional resources and support in order to achieve high-academic success, but our funding system does not fairly or consistently direct dollars where they are needed.
Demographic data also show that there is a growing number of students who are English Language Learners in our state. These students have extra learning needs that require resources, but ECS (even if we were following it) does not provide additional funds (or a “weight”) for ELL students.
The good news is, we can do something about it
This year’s budget deficit has forced tough conversations at the state capitol about how to spend our limited education dollars. These debates have highlighted the problems with our current funding system and are helping bring clarity to what’s broken. The debates have also sparked some dialogue about how to fix the system. For example, there is a bill proposed, S.B. 816: An Act Establishing A Minimum Level Of Funding Under The Education Cost Sharing Grant Formula, that would ensure districts would receive at a minimum 50% of their calculated funding according to the ECS. The intent of the bill is good, but it will not truly fix the problem. The proposed legislation, as with most education funding proposals being considered this year, are band-aids for a wound beyond mending because the ECS formula itself is fundamentally broken and simply does not work.
We need our state leaders to take into account a full view of the problems with our current school funding system and develop solutions that put students at the center and will make our public school funding more transparent, sustainable and equitable for all students, across all types of schools.