The lawsuit decided last fall and currently in appeal, CCJEF v. Rell, confirmed what we already know about the way we fund public education in Connecticut: while we might spend enough to educate our state’s public school students, we do not share our funding equitably.
The reality is that many of our highest need communities need more resources to support their students. This is too important to wait to address for another year.
Our incredible teachers and students from across the state are doing more with less every day. We know that money alone does not close the persistent achievement gap between low-income and wealthier districts, but we recognize that we must create the conditions for success in all schools. We need a new formula for how we fund public education in Connecticut and we know it is possible this legislative session to act.
We are working on a bill to redesign the way we fund public education in the state that will be more equitable, transparent, and predictable. This plan recommends using one formula for all students, weighted for student learning needs, and based on school enrollment. It also determines the amount a town or city receives from the state to supplement their education costs on both property wealth as well as income levels of residents, to gain a more accurate measure of a municipality’s ability to provide adequately for its students.
So, what does this mean for our towns and schools? It means one unified funding formula that creates a transparent, consistent, and equitable school finance system that can respond as enrollments and demographics—as well as Connecticut’s economy—change.
School districts will no longer have to wade through a sea of disconnected and outdated funding formulas, and wonder what their state education funding will be. Instead, districts will be able to enter their enrollment numbers and the specific needs of their students into one formula, and know what they will receive from the state for that year.
Creating a school finance system that is fair and addresses the needs of students and communities is a complex and politically challenging task. There will, of course, be the reality of cost and compromise. But the stakes are too high for policymakers not to take action this year. With significant fiscal challenges, we as policymakers must make difficult decisions about our state’s top priorities and how to fund them in smarter, fairer, and more transparent ways. We will work hard to make sure that education funding reform is part of our budget.
This is about our kids and their potential. And to be clear, there will be towns and cities that will not get more resources in this new plan. But this is a reflection of significant declining enrollment in their school districts and a towns’ financial ability to meet their education needs, and not on political gimmicks.
We are encouraged by the response of our colleagues in the Legislature, on both sides of the aisle, in support of this effort. As we work to address the fiscal challenges we face, prioritizing Connecticut’s next generation of skilled workers and competitive employees needs to be at the very top of our list. We cannot ask corporations to invest in Connecticut’s future if we do not make the investment ourselves.
Connecticut is at an important impasse: do we put partisanship or the status quo ahead of progress, or do we address the challenges we face with innovation and productive compromise? The way we fund public education in our state reflects who we are and where we are headed. Our children’s future, their success, and our state’s economy are counting on us for this systemic change. The time to act is now.
Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) is the Senate Majority Leader in the Connecticut General Assembly. He represents Norwalk and Darien. State Representative Jason Rojas (D-East Hartford) is the Co-Chair of the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee. He represents East Hartford and Manchester.