As we face what CT Voices for Children recently described as “arbitrary austerity”, there are new battles for State education funding that would have seemed unimaginable only a few years ago. The CT Mirror recently reported that the Connecticut Governor’s revised budget would cut all Educational Cost Share (ECS) funding to 28 wealthy towns and would cut a portion of funding from 111 other towns in Connecticut. I have a number of questions and concerns about cutting all or some of the ECS for these towns, even if they are middle income or very wealthy towns.
In order to make ECS work politically, it’s important to make sure every town and city gets something along a progressive scale – even if it’s a minor amount. After the Horton v. Meskill lawsuit, legislators in the 70s and 1980s were forced to acknowledge that the State was ultimately responsible for providing public education and that there was an over-reliance on local property taxes to pay for public education as guaranteed by the State.
The grant program they created eventually became the Educational Cost Sharing and today it provides funding to every town and city on a progressive basis, that is to say that each town receives a grant that is based on their ability to pay for their schools. The idea is that the State helps pay for public education in addition to local funds generated from property taxes in order “share the costs” of providing public education.
For some towns and cities, the ECS funding from the State is the largest single source of school funding, and for others the grant is supplementary to local revenue. Ideally, every town and city gets some state funding along a progressive scale, which is added to local funding generated from regressive property taxes. However, as the CCJEF case and attorneys like Wendy Lecker argue, the problem with the ECS grant is that it is largely underfunded to provide an adequate education to all students in Connecticut and the method of determining the amount of funding is not progressive or rational enough to be equitable.
So here are some of my questions and concerns.
By cutting and reducing grants for these wealthy and middle income towns and flat funding the 30 lowest income, Black and Latino districts, does this set up the Educational Cost Sharing as only a supposed “low-income, Black & Brown program”?
Does the ECS grant program then become more politically vulnerable in the future without all towns and cities getting aid, thus undermining the broad support it enjoys from all towns and cities in CT?
As my wife, Dr. Cotto, pointed out, there are white, Republican legislators from wealthy towns fighting for ECS funds alongside white, Black, and Latino legislators from the cities. It’s not everyday that there is near universal support in the legislature on a particular program or grant, particularly for public education.
Also, if the idea of the ECS is to base funding on a progressive, rational basis, then what rationale is there for an arbitrary elimination or cut of this funding for some towns and cities?
As my former colleague, Orlando Rodriguez, argued several years ago, there are problems with the exact components of the ECS formula along with its funding and implementation. Specific issues include the fact that some towns and cities are underfunded and overfunded based on past formulas set by the legislators. In short, the Legislature has made somewhat progressive formulas for allocating the ECS grant, but never funded it fully, nor cut anybody that should have received less (e.g. hold harmless). Arbitrary cuts don’t fix any of these problems.
Finally, cutting all or part of ECS funding for these very wealthy towns can be interpreted as a backdoor tax increase to those towns. Here’s why: If these towns want to maintain their current overall spending on education, they might have to raise local property taxes when these State cuts happen. I understand that there may not be a lot of sympathy for wealthy towns having to raise already low property tax rates, albeit in a roundabout way of cutting State education or municipal aid. I get it.
Thinking ahead, take as an example State Representative Gail Lavielle (R) from Wilton, who is a member of both the Appropriations and Education Committees. Will arbitrarily eliminating all State ECS funds to a wealthy town like Wilton make Representative Lavielle more or less likely to support State public education spending in the future, particularly the ECS grant?
This budget proposal to cut out or reduce wealthy and middle income towns from ECS funding on an arbitrary basis departs from the concept of progressive, rational cost sharing for public education. Will legislators and residents of Fairfield, Greenwich, Wilton, and similar towns have even less a reason to care and fight for public education in other parts of the state, having nothing to fight for in terms of ECS funding at the State level? My worry is that the next time, when they come for funds in the rest of our school districts, the ones that enroll low and middle-income White, Black, and Latino schools, we will be even more on our own to fight for those ECS dollars to fund public education and our schools.