SHOW US THE MONEY: SCHOOL FINANCE IN
The state’s school funding formula is called the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula. It was enacted in 1988 to take effect July 1, 1989. It replaced both the prior formula known as the Guaranteed Tax Base (GTB) and the supplemental Education Enhancement Act grants enacted in 1986.
The basic ECS formula is simple. The number of students in each school district (weighted for educational need) is multiplied by the amount the state has determined a district should spend to provide an adequate education (the foundation) and by an aid percentage determined by the district’s wealth. The result is the district’s ECS grant. But within this apparent simplicity lurks a host of complicated philosophical and financial issues. In addition, in every year since its passage, the General Assembly has changed the formula in some way, adding constraints and caveats that prevent it from operating in its pure form.
The state expects to distribute over $1.3 billion in ECS formula aid to towns in FY 1998-99. At the same time, several towns are suing over the changes in the formula since 1989. And a task force appointed by governor is considering whether to recommend changes in the formula in the coming legislative session.
ECS FORMULA FACTORS
The ECS formula recognizes that not all students are the same. STUDENT
Students who come from poor economic backgrounds or who lack COUNTS AND
proficiency in English cost more to educate because they need more WEIGHTINGS
services. These students tend to be concentrated in large cities and
poorer communities. The formula seeks to take this situation into
account by weighting districts’ student counts for educational need to drive more money to needier communities. Thus, each student on welfare (formerly those on Aid to Families with Dependant Children and now those on Temporary Family Assistance) is counted an extra 25%, as is each one performing below the remedial standard on state mastery tests. Students with limited English proficiency who are not served by the state’s mandated bilingual programs are counted an extra 10%.
In addition to the weightings for educational need, student counts are also weighted extra when a district’s school year is extended beyond 180 days or if it provides tuition-free summer school.
According to data provided by the State Department of Education, the 25%
poverty (welfare) weighting accounts for 4 to 5% of the ECS formula amount and the 25% mastery weighting for about 5 to 6%. Total student weightings affect about 10% of the total ECS amount. About two-thirds of
these dollars go to the poorest school districts.
The most controversial of the student weightings is the one for students scoring below the remedial level on the mastery tests. Some have argued that this weighting rewards failure and low academic performance.
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TOWN WEALTH Each school district’s wealth is determined by averaging the property tax base of its component towns and the income of their residents. The property tax base is the value of a town’s taxable real and personal property at 100% of market value, averaged over three years. The property
tax base is measured on both a per-student (with the number weighted for
need) and a per-person basis. Income is measured on a per capita and median household basis. The income factor is included because although taxes are based on property wealth, they are paid from income and thus affect a town’s taxing ability.
FOUNDATION The foundation is the level of per-student spending state aid helps towns
achieve. The original foundation was the regular per-student education
thexpenditures, weighted for educational need, in the town where the 80
thpercentile student lived. (The 80 percentile student is determined by
ranking all towns by their average per-pupil expenditures for the last three
years.) But the General Assembly later froze the foundation amount and then set a statutory amount (currently $5,775).
The foundation level is a key to the formula. If it is set too low, the formula will not provide enough aid to towns that cannot or will not tax themselves at a rate much above the required minimum. If it is set too high, the state will be sending aid to communities that could do more on their own.
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The ECS formula is supposed to allow all towns to tax themselves at the STATE
same equalized rate to raise their relative shares of the foundation GUARANTEED amount. The state makes up any difference up to the state guaranteed WEALTH LEVEL wealth level. That level is 55% above the wealth of the median town. The higher the guaranteed wealth level, the higher the state share. Each
town’s base aid is determined by comparing its wealth to the state guaranteed wealth level.
The state guaranteed wealth level is the formula factor that has the most effect on the amount the state spends on the ECS formula.
In addition to their base aid, some towns receive supplemental aid if they SUPPLEMENTAL
have high concentrations of remedial and poor students. And towns that AID AND
are members of regional school districts receive a regional aid bonus. The REGIONAL
regional bonus is either $25 per enrolled student for a K-12 region or a BONUS
proportionate share of that amount for regions with fewer grades.
Supplemental aid accounts for about 0.4% of the ECS money distributed and the regional bonus for 0.04%.
SPECIAL FORMULA ADJUSTMENTS
After each district’s ECS grant is calculated according to the formula, the CAPS AND
law limits the year-to-year increases and decreases in aid to a maximum STOPLOSSES
of plus or minus 5%. These constraints are called “caps” and
“stoplosses.” The actual caps and stoplosses can be less than 5% because they are calculated based on wealth. Thus, if a town’s wealth is
that or above the 10 percentile, it will have the highest stoploss (-5%). If a
thtown’s wealth is at or below the 90 percentile, it has the highest cap
The neediest 14 towns (the priority school districts) cannot receive less than 70% of their current year’s formula aid.
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The ECS formula also has a factor designed to drive additional money to DENSITY
towns with high population density. These towns tend to have a higher SUPPLEMENT
demand for a wider variety of municipal services. Any town whose
population density is higher than the state average receives a
supplement. The density supplement is not subject to the cap or the stoploss.
The density supplement is roughly 0.39% of the ECS money.
JOHNSON V. ROWLAND LAWSUIT
On March 18, 1998, several towns filed a lawsuit against the state over PARTICIPATING
the level of ECS funding. The towns are: Ansonia, Bridgeport, Coventry, TOWNS
East Hartford, East Windsor, Manchester, Meriden, New Britain, New
Haven, Seymour, and West Haven.
The plaintiffs have no quarrel with the basic ECS formula. But they cite PLAINTIFFS’
several changes the General Assembly has made since 1989 that they GRIEVANCES
contend make current funding unconstitutional. They are:
; That the foundation has not been increased to keep up with inflation
; That the state guaranteed wealth level has been reduced since 1988
; That the special education categorical grant has been repealed and
folded into the ECS formula
; That the Minimum Expenditure Requirement (MER) has been
separated from the ECS formula
; That annual increases in ECS aid are capped
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The following Office of Legislative Research reports on this issue may be of interest. Call
the Legislative Library at 240-8888 or visit our Intranet webpage at http://cgalites/olr.
Gives a history of the changes in the state’s system of funding education 95-R-0899
and the court decisions prompting them (8 pages).
Provides information on the Johnson v. Rowland lawsuit and describes the 98-R-0293
origin of a supposed state commitment to fund 50% of the cost of
education (2 pages).
Gives a year-by-year summary of legislative changes in the ECS formula 98-R-0496
from 1988 through 1997 (6 pages).
Briefly traces the historical development of the right to an education in 98-R-1361
Connecticut (3 pages).
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