Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Eric Chung, a Yale Law School Student with the Education Adequacy Project Clinic (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT—There seems to be universal agreement that Connecticut’s Education Cost Sharing formula is broken, but there’s no agreement on how to fix it. That’s why the plaintiffs in the landmark education adequacy lawsuit are asking lawmakers to start from scratch rebuilding a formula based on student needs.

Eric Chung, a Yale Law School student representing the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, said the state should undertake an “education adequacy cost study” to find out what measures are need to ensure every child in the state receives an equal educational opportunity.

He said cost studies have been done in over 30 states and it’s necessary for Connecticut to do a study before making any more changes to the current formula.

Last September, Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher concluded that “Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty to provide adequate public school opportunities.” The state has since appealed the decision to the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have been left trying to figure out how to respond to the court ruling which said the state needs to “rationally connect educational spending with educational need.”

Andrea Lewis, a Yale Law School student, said in seven of the last eight years the formula hasn’t even been followed.

“Education funding has been allotted without any reference to the formula at all,” Lewis told the Education Committee Wednesday.

It was a reality that wasn’t lost on lawmakers.

Newly-elected state Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, said until they know how much it costs to educate a typical kid in Connecticut “we’re just throwing darts in the wind.”

He said he’s hearing all these intelligent educators come up and offer ways to tweak this or tweak that part of the formula when the formula itself is broken.

“The interest should be in how much it costs to educate a child and we don’t know that,” McCrory said. “Until we know that let’s stop having this conversation and do a study.”

He said until they study the issue from the perspective of student needs then they are “wasting my time.” Frustrated, he said he’s not interested in having a five hour conversation about stuff they don’t even know.

Jim Finley, a consultant for CCJEF, said Connecticut’s practice of distributing education aid has always been backwards. He said it’s always been done by figuring how much money the state has to dole out and then coming up with a formula to distribute it.

“We’ve never looked at what the actual student needs are,” Finley said. “…we want a data driven process.”

Earlier this month, as part of his budget, Gov. Malloy proposed changes to the ECS formula, including using Medicaid eligibility, instead of federal guidelines for free and reduced lunch. He also proposed separating out special education and using more accurate student population data.

Finley said the governor’s proposal only uses one data point for student need. He said to really include the diversity of student need there needs to be more than one factor in the formula.

“In our view, he’s manipulated the formula to predetermine a spending amount,” Finley said. “And it’s not reflecting actual need at the district level.”

Finley predicted the study will force the state to spend more money on education, but that increased amount can be phased in over a period of time.

“An education funding formula should always be aspirational,” Finley said.

The study, which they estimated would cost about $250,000 to $300,000, would take about a year to complete.

The plaintiff’s are looking to help with the study, but are not interested in conducting it.

Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, said she doesn’t believe Connecticut has an adequate basis for the way in which the funding formula is calculated.

But she thinks an “impartial” and “neutral” party should be the one conducting the study, not the plaintiffs.

Mark Waxenberg, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said that Connecticut needs to come up with “a formula that makes sense.”

He said Malloy’s budget shows that the current formula is “irretrievably broken.”

“Don’t back into it as this present budget does,” Waxenberg said. “It just makes things more inequitable.”

He said lawmakers need to hit the pause button and maintain existing funding for a majority of towns and increase funding for the Alliance districts, while “serious people have to get down to serious business about the future of funding public education in the state of Connecticut.”

A spokeswoman for Malloy said the governor is interested in continuing the conversation.

“We agree with the countless residents we’ve heard from in Connecticut communities – the time for bold action to address the issue of fair funding in our education system is now,” Meg Green, a spokeswoman for Malloy said. “For decades, we have not properly supported pockets of poverty in our cities and small towns. The governor’s proposal seeks to rectify that situation by creating a formula that is more predictable, transparent, and fair – including a better measure of student poverty and current enrollment to recognize shifting demographics in our communities.”