The state would have a more accurate sense of how many low-income students attend Connecticut public schools if it changed how those students are identified and counted, according to a recent report.
The state currently defines low-income students as those who qualify for free and reduced-price meals at school, but a report by the Connecticut School Finance Project says that likely gives an incomplete picture.
The matter is important to individual schools, the report said, since a school’s number of low-income students is part of the formula used to determine how much state funding it receives.
“Our analysis shows the best policy option for Connecticut to measure low-income students…is to add HUSKY A to the measures currently used to directly certify students for school meals.”
HUSKY A is the state’s Medicaid program for children up to 19 years old and their caregivers. HUSKY A enrollment currently is not a factor in qualifying children for direct certification for free school meals, but the project says it should be.
Direct certification allows students “categorically deemed at risk” to be eligible for free school meals through the National School Lunch Program without having to apply to the program, according to the Connecticut School Finance Project.
Now, students can be directly certified if they are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Head Start or Pre-K Even Start. School districts also can identify students as foster, homeless or runaway youth, directly certifying them, according to the project.
But the programs currently used to determine direct certification historically have low participation rates, according to the project, meaning some low-income students may not be identified as such.
“Adding HUSKY A, and its high utilization rate, to the list of means-tested programs already captured by direct certification will more accurately measure low-income student counts, while not decreasing the overall low-income student count in the highest-need districts,” the report said.
HUSKY A has a higher income threshold than most of the federal programs already included in direct certification, the study said, meaning the highest-need school districts need not worry about a cut in aid due to a drop in low-income tallies.
The change would help districts with high shares of low-income students, the report said.
“When more students are directly certified, the number of children eligible for no-cost meals, rather than reduced-price meals, increases and districts are able to claim a higher rate of reimbursement, thereby increasing federal funding for the highest-need schools,” it said.
The Connecticut School Finance Project is a nonpartisan nonprofit founded in 2015 that works to build knowledge about, and identify solutions to fix, the state’s public school funding system.
The group’s report comes out as an historic lawsuit against the state – alleging inequity in public education – is coming to a close.
More than a decade after the case was introduced, trial briefs in CCJEF v. Rell are due Friday and oral arguments in the case are slated for Aug. 8-9.
The CCJEF v. Rell plaintiffs are 15 students and their families from throughout the state who allege the state failed to “suitably and equitably” fund its public schools, thereby limiting some students’ abilities to gain skills, become employed and attend college.
In their complaint, plaintiffs say negative consequences of the state’s school funding system disproportionately affect black, Latino and other minority students, which they allege violates the state constitution.
The suit was filed in Hartford Superior Court in November 2005, and the plaintiffs are represented by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF).
The trial, which lasted the entire month of May and saw 54 witnesses called to the stand, is the first time that the two sides have been able to argue the underlying case since a divided Supreme Court in 2010 issued a pretrial ruling saying that public school children have a constitutional right to “suitable educational opportunities.”
The state has argued that the plaintiff’s are seeking a $2 billion increase in state education funding each year that it doesn’t believe is “necessary to meet a constitutional guarantee of adequate, free public elementary and secondary schools.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who as mayor of Stamford was one of the plaintiffs in the case before becoming a defendant, has said that he’s increased school funding by about $440 million since 2011.
The plaintiff’s argue that’s still not enough to achieve equity required by the state constitution.