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May 162011
 

Written Testimony on Senate Bill 1195

Before the Education Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly

March 24, 2011

Good afternoon members of the Committee. My name is Patrick MacDonald and I am a student at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk.

I’m here to talk to you about what it’s like to attend school in a district that is at a disadvantage due to the current ECS formula. I’ve heard a lot people around the state and in my city, especially politicians, talk about how proud they are to have gone through a Connecticut public school. Yet students in my district can tell you better than anyone else that our schools aren’t where they need to be – and they are not where they once used to be. Every day, we feel the pressure of the competition a global economy entails, and every day we feel the consequences of not being prepared for that competition, whether it’s worrying if we can make it into that top college or edge out other applicants for a dream job.

What do our political leaders have to say about this? Year after year after year, meeting after meeting after meeting, speaker after speaker after speaker, students have heard the same thing: it’s all about the children, this is for the children, we’re here for the children.  But we the students of Norwalk Public Schools will not be convinced that our state leaders are committed to its students’ future until we see that every student is given the skills they need to be able to compete in a global economy, until every student embraces learning, and until every student can achieve their highest potential.

Now our elected officials must ask themselves what sort of public school systems they’d like for the future.  Do they really want to condemn the students of Norwalk and other communities not receiving their fair share of ECS funding, to a lackluster school system?  Do they really want to further debilitate students, and make it even harder for them to compete in the world?  We hear that when times are better, we can invest in our schools.  But let’s face it: state officials can’t continue down this dangerous path of putting off the dire need for fair and equitable investment; our children, who we care for so deeply, are already falling too far behind, the stakes for Norwalk and Connecticut are already too high, and the crisis unfolding in our schools has been too long ignored, to keep pushing back what is so long overdue.

For those of us students who have younger brothers and sisters going through the school system, we can only look at them and wonder: will they have the bright future that they deserve?  This state must remember that if we can build a better public school system, we can build a better Connecticut, and if we can build a better Connecticut, we can build that brighter future that we so desperately need.  I hope you will pass Senate Bill 1195. Thank you for the opportunity to address the committee today.

Patrick MacDonald,

10 Silver River Court,

Norwalk, CT, 06850

TESTIMONY

of Lisa Thomson, R.Ed APPLES, Norwalk, CT

 

Regarding  S.B.  1195: An Act Concerning School Finance Reform.  To replace the state’s current mechanism for funding public school education with a long term, sustainable pupil based funding system.

 

Senators and Representatives of the Appropriations Committee, thank you for the opportunity to submit my testimony regarding S.B. 1195 directed at replacing the current education funding model.

I am here to support and endorse a more equitable funding system for the children who attend our Connecticut public schools that is based upon a simplified, common sense concept that puts students first and takes into account their individual learning needs at the public schools they attend.  I am an executive member and co-founder of a grassroots organization known as R.Ed APPLES of Norwalk (www.redapplesnorwalk.org), which has 75+ registered members that include parents, PTC/PTA Presidents, educators, taxpayers, concerned citizens, neighborhood activists, politicians and local business owners.  It does take a village!

We are political but non-partisan, independent, pro education and pro teacher, but most importantly, pro change and reform across a spectrum of educational issues ranging from greater adult accountability to school finance reform.

Although we are located in Fairfield County, Norwalk is an urban school district, with high levels of poverty and a significant number of at-risk children that have additional learning needs that require more resources than what might ordinarily be required for wealthier communities in Connecticut.

It is well known that urban school districts have seen a jump in their poverty levels across the nation and Connecticut is no exception.  As an example, Norwalk’s student population has held fairly steady over the years at approximately 11,000.  Yet, in the past 5 years, the number of students that qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch has jumped from 2,555 students in 2005 to 4,744 in 2010 (an increase from 23.1 % of our total student body to 43.7%.)  Also, 13% of that base represents ELL students.

It is not my intention to pit one city against another in a fight over limited state dollars, but it seems to me that the current system has an arbitrary foundation level, does not take into account student needs, calculates municipal wealth unfairly, and fails to fund special education satisfactorily.  As the 6th largest city in Connecticut, these represent Norwalk’s educational issues.

Education is the most important investment we can make as a state and country.  Without educated citizens, our economy is strained even further and businesses will not invest in our state.

The achievement gap in Connecticut between our low income and higher income students is the worst in the country and our top performing students are purportedly one year behind Massachusetts.

The current funding system is not transparent.  As we move toward more accountability as a nation and state, it is important that parents and taxpayers know where their state tax dollars are going.  I am speaking of history here, but any formula that required the proposal of another bill to try and explain the funding formula to the public, was probably a convoluted one.

I am not an educator, but I am the daughter of one.  I have also spent over 25 years in the corporate sector, spending nearly half of my career working overseas in both Europe and Asia.  I fear for the children of Connecticut and around the country.  And I especially fear for the lower income, at risk children.  I fear that they will NOT have the skills necessary to compete for jobs in Connecticut, let alone a global economy.  I also fear for Connecticut. Without an educated workforce, companies will not invest and residents will move out.

While money alone will not solve our educational crisis, a more equitable, balanced and transparent formula would make it easier for the 169 school districts to share and compare best practices by comparing apples to apples not apples to oranges when trying to improve student achievement.

I hope that the members of the Appropriations Committee will rigorously discuss and debate the proposed education funding model so as to ensure a more fair, transparent, and effective funding system for all in our great State.

Thank you,

Lisa Thomson
Co- Founder – R.Ed APPLES of Norwalk
Attachment: Norwalk Common Council Resolution on ECS Passed on January 25, 2011

Whereas, The State of Connecticut Educational Cost Sharing grant system is Connecticut’s primary education equalization aid program; and

Whereas the ECS formula is designed to allocate grant funds to school districts to fairly reflect student need as a function of poverty, test performance and limited English  proficiency as well as district wealth, and

Whereas, it is the contention of the Common Council of the City of Norwalk  that, when compared with other Connecticut municipalities of similar sociological composition,  the ECS grant allocation to the City of Norwalk is substantially smaller; and

Whereas, the Council sites as example the following data:

The growth of Norwalk’s percentage of students from non-English Language homes from 24.3% in the year 2000-2001 to 35.0% in the year 2005-2006, and the growth in the percentage of non-English language speaking students from 7.7% to 12.5% during the same period (while the across the State comparable percentage  increased from only 3.7% to 5.2%).

The growth in numbers of Norwalk children eligible for free or reduced priced meals from 23.1% in 2004-2005 to 39.9% in 2009-2010 (while the comparable State-wide percentages increased from 26.4% to 32.9%).

The percentage of Norwalk’s educational costs derived from Connecticut Educational Cost Sharing Grants decreased from 11.7% to 11.1% between 2001 and 2008, ranking Norwalk second-to-last in the percentage category and last in actual revenue sharing dollars received among Connecticut’s cities as demonstrated in the following chart:

District % of School Revenues Provided By State 2007-2008Budget ($ millions) State Portion ($ millions
Bridgeport 68.2 268 183
Danbury 69.2 119 83
Hartford 63.2 364 230
New Britain 60.4 137 83
New Haven 60.9 312 189
Norwalk 11.1 160 18
Stamford 8.8 234 21
Waterbury 56.2 232 130

Cont.

Pastoral communities without apparent urban challenges often receive comparatively higher ECS support than the City of Norwalk.

District ECS % 2007-2008
Canterbury 46.5
Canton 18.2
Hebron 35.0
Mansfield 33.3
Watertown 35.6
Wethersfield 18.5
Wolcott 44.7
Woodstock 35.4
Norwalk 11.1

and, Whereas, the Common Council of the City of Norwalk, lacking more conclusive argument that the allocation of grants resulting from State ECS formula has been adjusted to reflect rapid sociological and demographic changes of the past decade, and that these changes would increase Norwalk’s portion of the State Grant allocation.

Now, therefore, be it resolved: The Norwalk Common Council respectfully requests, on behalf of the Citizens of Norwalk, that Connecticut Education Cost Sharing Grants be reviewed and appropriately revised to reflect recent changes in sociological, economic and demographic information; and adjusted favorably to account for such changes.

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