ConnCan Cluelessness

Posted on April 15, 2011



Or is it just a school finance Conn-job, in a CAN?

In their response to my Think Tank Review of Spend Smart: Fix Our Broken School Funding System,  ConnCan asserts that I claim that Connecticut’s school finance formula is not broken.  (see: http://ht.ly/4BknI)

As I state in my report, it’s not that the formula is not problematic, but that ConnCan fails to make any reasonable case that it is – even though it is. Their analysis is simply too shoddy, weak, incompetent to validate that it is broken, or how it is broken. I explain:

There may in fact be legitimate concerns over the equity and adequacy of funding to Connecticut schools as a result of significant problems with the Education Cost Sharing Formula. However, the ConnCAN Spend Smart report provides little or no supporting evidence for their claim that the system is broken or how their proposals would be an effective solution if it indeed is in need of repair.23

I actually show some of the problems in my brief, and have shown these problems in the past. My point in the critique is that ConnCan’s shoddy brief does little to help one understand the problems with the CT school finance system, and in fact provides multiple distractions and significant misinformation.

ConnCan also asserts that I claim that their proposal would harm low income children. Rather, I assert that ConnCan recommends only a relatively low weight for children qualifying for free or reduced price lunch and that they ignore entirely districts with high concentrations of LEP/ELL children.

ConnCan argues that I unfairly suggest that they oppose weighting for LEP/ELL children. While they do hold open the possibility that those children might receive supplemental funding in the future, they also suggest that they have done analysis already, or know of analysis, that indicates that it probably isn’t necessary. This suggestion is not backed by anything, and is completely irresponsible.

Here’s their footnote on this point:

―The formula could also hypothetically provide weights for other student needs, such as English Language Learner status. However, data shared by Connecticut State Department of Education with the State‘s Ad Hoc Committee to Study Education Cost Sharing and School Choice show that the measure for free/reduced price lunch also captures most English language learners. In other words, there is a very strong correlation between English language learner concentration and poverty concentration in Connecticut. In addition, keeping the formula simple allows a more generous weight for students in poverty‖ (p. 7, FN 12).

And here’s my response to their footnote:

This finding is cited only ambiguously in a footnote to data shared by CTDOE. In some states, a strong relationship between the two measures might warrant collapsing supplemental aid for LEP and low-income children into one student-need factor—with sufficient additional support to meet the combination and concentration of needs. However, a quick check of the data in Connecticut shown in Figure 1 (below) reveals that several districts have disproportionately high LEP concentrations relative to their low-income concentrations—specifically Norwalk, Danbury, New London, Windham, Stamford and New Britain. (figure in review)

And:

The overall correlations between ELL concentrations and subsidized lunch rates are not sufficiently strong (only a 0.50 correlation in 2008-2009) to select a single factor for addressing both needs. Nor does the report offer any actual analysis in drawing this conclusion (see Table A1, Appendix). Table A1 in the Appendix to this review provides a quick check of the correlations between wealth measures, income measures and student populations for 2005 and 2009.

That nitpicking aside, my big concern with the ConnCan report in this regard is that they provide absolutely no support for any of their recommendations, and in some cases state as fact, conclusions that turn out to be FLAT OUT WRONG.

I explain:

Further, some of the statements and recommendations made in the report, such as those pertaining to LEP/ELL children, are simply wrong. And these factual mistakes have significant consequences for the validity of the report‘s recommendations. By combining the ELL mistake with the proposal that ―money follow the child‖ (the weighted student funding formula), the report‘s recommendations would apparently be a boon to advocates for charter expansion. However, the weighted funding formula is a tangential argument at best, not supported by any of the claims in the report, and one that seeks to divert significant resources from schools with the highest demonstrated needs.

Finally, regarding the issue of poverty and driving money to charters, ConnCAN seems to not fully understand how their own proposal works – which I guess doesn’t really surprise me. Let’s break it down:

  1. CT charters serve fewer free lunch kids (<130% poverty level)  than their host districts, but serve relatively more free or reduced price lunch (<185% poverty level) kids (they have more of the less poor among the poor)
  2. Take any given sum of money and distribute it by free + reduced lunch kids and charters make out better. At a zero sum re-allocation, providing a smaller weight on free or reduced lunch kids versus a larger weight on free only shifts some of that money to charters.
  3. CT charters have very few ELL/LEP kids, so they wouldn’t benefit from a weight on these kids.
  4. Arguing to not have a weight on ELL/LEP kids and to instead reallocate that sum of money to the free or reduced price lunch weight, drives that money into charters – as well as other districts with higher free and reduced price lunch shares but fewer ELL/LEP kids. THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THEY ARGUE FOR! (see red above)

If we assume state finance formulas to work within fixed budget constraints (which they do), this strategy, based on a lie of no need for an ELL/LEP weight, is effectively robbing the ELL/LEP populations to subsidize the less poor among the poor.  This is a classic weight shifting game.

For the complete review, see: http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/TTR-ConnCan-Baker-FINAL.pdf

Previous policy brief on CT School Finance & Money Follows the Child: CT and Money Follows the Child

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