Widespread consensus exists that Connecticut’s method for funding public schools is arbitrary and dysfunctional. We are one of only four states that has not used a formula for determining school funding, and our achievement gaps are among the worst in the United States. Last year’s landmark CCJEF v. Rell ruling determined that Connecticut’s funding model is so irrational as to be unconstitutional, “The state spends billions on schools without any binding principle guaranteeing that education aid goes where it’s needed.” The result of our our tangled web of funding is that far too many of our children, especially children of color and children in poverty, are denied access to a quality education.
There was hope this year. After the longest budget impasse in Connecticut history, the General Assembly in late October passed a budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. Politicians declared progress, promising that a new, fair education funding formula will be implemented under this legislation. To be sure, this budget includes steps towards a new education funding formula, to be implemented over 10 years. It also creates a committee to study the issue further.
However, this budget falls short of a real fix because it does not include all students across all types of public schools. This perpetuates Connecticut’s system of separate, unequal education.
Let’s break this down. The graph below shows how much students will receive once the new funding formula is fully implemented. As you can see, students with greater learning needs will receive more funding. Sending more funds to students with more learning challenges is a good thing and a basic principle of a student-based funding system. However, our state leaders have decided that only students in traditional public schools should get this sort of needs-based funding. At charter public schools, students will get a lower, fixed amount that does not account for their learning needs. The difference, when fully phased-in, will be at least $6,000 per child. These massive disparities are a political decision that favors some students over others — just because of type of public school they attend.
Students’ learning needs don’t change when they choose to attend one type of public school or another. So why should their education funding vary across school types? This budget sends a signal that students attending charter public schools — who are among the most vulnerable children in our state — are literally worth thousands of dollars less than children in traditional schools.
Charter public schools deliver results for many of our state’s most disadvantaged students. In a time of scarce public dollars, we need to invest in what works. For example, U.S. News and World Report ranked New Haven’s Amistad Academy as the top high school in Connecticut. Booker T. Washington Academy in New Haven is the highest-performing school in math statewide, achieving higher scores than our wealthiest suburbs. These are both charter public schools where the majority of students are of color and experience poverty.
Connecticut is facing a deeply uncertain future. Now, more than ever, we need to invest in innovative, efficient solutions that will ensure our children are ready to succeed in college and the workforce and that our state is a place where people want to live and work. Getting there requires real fixes — like funding students fairly at the public schools that work for them.