We believe that every Connecticut school and district should have the funding it needs to provide an exceptional education for our students. That means funding and building an effective system where students with the same needs consistently receive the same level of funding, regardless of the public school they attend. The current system is complicated, ineffective, and unclear—particularly with respect to the financing of school choice.
The State of Connecticut has created a series of public school programs that give families subsidized alternatives to their neighborhood schools. Every year, thousands of Connecticut families avail themselves of these options by sending their children to themed magnet schools, state and local charter schools, schools outside their own school districts (Open Choice), or vocational schools (such as the Connecticut Technical High Schools (CTHSS) and the Regional Agriscience Centers).
Unequal Funding Formulas
To fund these schools, the State of Connecticut has developed a crazy quilt of financing formulas, where financial supports are given unequally to the various types of choice schools. For example:
- There are 6 separate state and local funding scenarios for magnet schools.
- Charter schools have different funding formulas, depending on whether they are state or local charters; and
- Connecticut’s two statewide vocational education programs (CTHSS and the Regional Agriscience Centers) are also funded differently from each other.
Unequal Allocation of ECS Funding
The state’s largest grant, the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant, also figures prominently in school choice financing. Its application to school choice is also spread illogically and unequally. For instance, if District A sends a child to a magnet school in District B, District A still gets to keep the ECS funding–even though it is not actually bearing the costs of educating the child. Equally illogically, while local charter school students are funded by the ECS formula, state charter school students are not.
This year, legislation included parents in the school choice funding chaos. Starting next year, families with preschool magnet school students could have to pay tuition for their children to attend these public schools. Even if tuition is based on a sliding scale, parents still might not be able to afford to send their children to these high-quality preschool programs.
Should Money Follow the Child?
One way to clear up the school choice funding chaos would be to institute Money Follows the Child (MFTC), which would create a more logical funding system that assigns equal funding per enrolled student in any district or school. Instead of the confusion of the current system, MFTC would simplify school choice funding. Each child attending a school of choice would get a “backpack” of costs wherever he attended school. Connecticut’s average annual education cost per child of $14,500 could be a base from which a consistent, logical, and comprehensible school choice funding method could be crafted.
In some other major urban centers, including Los Angeles and Baltimore, some form of a MFTC system has been implemented. Here in Connecticut, Hartford is also often mentioned as a community that has successfully implemented MFTC. Connecticut could look to these as examples of how to untangle the knot of its current system of school choice funding.