Column: Stop the Double Pay Play in Education

By Kimberly Fiorello

As a freshman lawmaker, serving on the Education Committee in the Connecticut General Assembly, has been both eye-opening and mind-boggling. There is no better example of the inexplicable actions taken by that committee than HB5283 An Act Concerning The Education Cost Sharing Grant Formula.

On its face this bill seeks to increase funding of the existing eleven formulas used to distribute state-collected money to public schools. Connecticut has one of the country’s most complex education funding systems. There is no education reform in this bill, except to put more money into the existing system, about $395.5 million more per year according to an Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) report on an earlier version of the bill that is essentially the same as HB5283 . Still, there is something else at the heart of this bill that should make our blood boil.

That something is called “double funding” or “paying twice” for some students. Buried in this 43-page bill are two sentences that say: “…a student enrolled in an inter-district magnet school program shall be considered a student enrolled in the school district in which such student resides…” and “…a student enrolled in an agricultural science and technology education center shall be considered a student enrolled in the school district in which such student resides.” This literally means, let’s pretend a student is in two places at the same time and send money to both buildings.

It works like this. Jane is a registered public school student but she does not attend the school assigned to her by her zip code – instead, she attends a magnet school elsewhere. You would think then that the district school’s enrollment numbers would go down by one student because Jane is not attending that school. It does not. Currently, both schools report Jane as being enrolled and both schools get paid state funds. Interestingly, in most cases, the magnet or agri-science school that teaches Jane gets paid less per pupil than the district school Jane does not attend.

This absurd practice of paying twice for some students is a big open secret in Connecticut education among some politicians and education bureaucrats. I’m told it came to be in the 1990s when education reform was all the rage across the country and in Connecticut a deal was struck to “hold harmless” the district schools that lost students to magnets or other choice schools.

There are no fiscal consequences to the district schools for losing students, except to perversely increase per pupil funding. Although this may seem like it is helping lower-performing districts, without real educational reform there are no incentives for district schools to perform better for the students when they get paid no matter what. In fact, we are rewarding poor performance to the bitter frustration of thousands of parents whose children are on lottery waiting lists for charter schools. Out of about 1050 public schools in our state, we have only 21 charter schools.

Today, by conservative estimates, we are “double funding” or “paying twice” for about 45,000 magnet and Agri-science students out of the about 530,000 public school students in our state. This costs parents and taxpayers more than $300 million per year, which is about 10% of the annual operating budget of our state Department of Education.

Stopping the double funding would just about pay for the increased spending sought in this bill. Otherwise, the true cost of this bill to both increase spending and continue the double funding is closer to $700 million.

This bill was successfully voted out of the Education Committee with the majority party’s support and with almost every Republican voting against it. Supporters of double funding say that the district schools pay for the busing of students to their magnet schools or that district schools face high special education costs. But those costs can be quantified, and the district schools should be reimbursed for them properly, not through a double funded mechanism with no transparency.

The constant refrain we hear in our state is that our city schools are underfunded and every year the majority party puts forth bills to raise taxes, like a state-wide property tax, to fund education. Yet, many suburban school districts, like Greenwich, get back nearly zero dollars for education with all their state tax dollars going to support other school districts.

Education is the key to life-changing opportunities.

We must demand that the double funding be phased out immediately. Real educational reform, like money follows the child, that helps all children succeed should be a goal of the Education Committee, not double-counting students to direct money to poorly performing districts without incentivizing them to improve their performance.

Fund the students, not the system.

Contact House leadership today to stop HB5283. Speaker of the House, Matthew.Ritter@cga.ct.gov; Majority Leader, Jason.Rojas@cga.ct.gov; Minority Leader, Vincent.Candelora@housegop.ct.gov; Education Committee Leaders, Bobby.Sanchez@cga.ct.gov, Douglas.Mccrory@cga.ct.gov, Jeff.Currey@cga.ct.gov, Kathleen.McCarty@housegop.ct.gov, Eric.Berthel@cga. ct.gov

.

Leave a Comment