Jennifer Alexander Testifies in Support of House Bill 5701, An Act Concerning the Timing of the Adoption of the Education Cost-Sharing Grant and Municipal Aid Funding by the General Assembly

Members of the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Formica, Sen. Osten, Representative Walker and Representative Ziobron, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you. My name is Jennifer Alexander, I am the CEO of ConnCAN, a statewide non-profit organization that has spent more than a decade fighting to ensure that all kids in Connecticut have access to a great public education.

Today, I will address House Bill 5701, An Act Concerning the Timing of the Adoption of the Education Cost-Sharing Grant and Municipal Aid Funding by the General Assembly.   We thank Representative Lavielle for raising this bill and look forward to seeing its content. I also want to recognize the work and effort of Representatives Duff and Dauphinais on House Bill 5218 and House Bill 5467 on the timing of the State’s education budget to allow schools and districts sufficient time to plan for the year ahead.  It is encouraging to see state leaders taking the initiative this legislative session to work towards enacting a fair, equitable and sustainable funding formula that will ultimately help every Connecticut child get the quality education they need and deserve.

We hope that these bills will be a part of the solution that our state needs to fix the inequities Judge Thomas Moukawsher cited the CCJEF ruling this past fall. In that ruling, the Judge made clear that we need need to establish a formula that is predictable and equitable. Judge Moukawsher called our state’s funding system “whimsical” and “illusory”  because it leaves students with similar learning needs funded at radically different amounts based on where a student lives or the type of the type of public school a student attends.

In our state and this country, we hold fast to a bold and democratic ideal: a great public education that is free and available to all children. But, right now, our reality is far different from that ideal. Today, there are basically 3 ways that families can put their children in good schools: 1) They can buy it, 2) They can get lucky, or 3) They can steal it. Families can buy a good education by renting or purchasing a home and moving into in a good school district (as this recent New York Times article makes clear) or by paying for private school. Or, they can take a chance on luck and enroll their child in a public school of choice, but because of antiquated state laws, these schools aren’t able to serve all the children who want to attend them and enrollment is decided by lottery. Or, families can “steal” an education by lying about where they live to get their child into a good public school. We’ve seen CT families do this and face prison time for their “crime.” This reality is profoundly unfair and violates our ideal of a free and great public education available to all kids.   It’s time for us to truly deliver on the promise of a great public education for all kids by ensuring that all children–regardless of race, zip code, or family income–receive a quality education.   Doing so is essential to ensure that Connecticut is a place where people want to live and work and where businesses can thrive.

The health of our state’s economy depends on a well-prepared, well-educated workforce. Nationally, about 99% of the jobs added since the the Great Recession have gone to workers with at least some college education. Here in Connecticut, data show that by 2020, 70 percent of Connecticut jobs will require some form of higher education. By that same year, more than half of our young workers will be people of color. And yet far too few students, especially our students of color who will soon be the majority of our workforce, are prepared to compete in the future economy. We must develop 21st century schools and a fair, sustainable funding formula that supports them.

An opportunity to develop a new funding formula only happens once every 25 years at best. We must get this right, now. We urge you to establish a sound funding formula so that this generation of students is positioned for a successful future. As you prepare to address this difficult, but important task,  we urge you to work towards developing a formula that upholds the values of: equity, innovation, coherence, transparency, fairness and accountability. These values are put forward by a coalition of statewide organizations including ConnCAN, CAPSS, CABE, CAS and CCER in our Design Principles for a New School Funding Formula. We need a formula that is applied fairly across all towns and all public schools. A new formula should consolidate the 11 different ways that we currently funds schools into a single funding formula provides additional funds for students needs, including low-income, concentrated poverty and English Language Learner status.

As you all proceed this session and consider the various proposals before you to fix our broken school funding system, we urge you to enact a new funding formula, this year, that supports students based upon their learning needs at the public schools they choose to attend.  A modern, functional funding formula is long overdue. Such a model will put our students’ needs first to give them access to the high quality education they need and deserve.

Thank you.