FUNDING PRIORITIES FOR P-12 AND HIGHER EDUCATION
2017 was marked by the longest budget crisis in Connecticut state history and the continuing CCJEF v. Rell education adequacy litigation. The General Assembly's failure to resolve the $3.5 billion biennial budget deficit by the end of the 2017 legislative session prompted Governor Malloy to issue emergency executive orders on July 1 to fund government operations.1 Meanwhile, the fate of state aid to school districts hung in the balance. The Governor's executive orders contemplated cuts to Education Cost Sharing funds to all but the 30 neediest school districts by October 1 unless the Connecticut General Assembly could reach a budget agreement during the September special legislative session. The specter of draconian cuts to school district budgets led some towns to delay school openings and others to lay off teachers or to forego filling positions while waiting for a budget resolution.2 In an effort to move the stalled budget negotiations forward, the Governor modified his previous proposal by restoring some of the ECS cuts to all but the twenty wealthiest towns. He also withdrew his initial plan to shift costs for local teachers' pensions entirely to the towns and instead called for school districts to fund current educators.3 In an unanticipated move, the Republican budget plan narrowly passed both chambers on September 15, 2017. The GOP plan contained no tax increases, included cuts to higher education and other state agencies while increasing ECS funds. It also called for a new ECS formula.4 Governor Malloy vetoed the budget deeming it unbalanced [End Page 239] and based on unrealistic cost savings. 5
After extended negotiations between both caucuses, the state's historic budget impasse ended on October 26 when the General Assembly passed the biennial $41.3 billion spending plan for government. The P-12 education budget included appropriations of $5.8 billion for the budget biennium ending in FY 2019, representing 24% of the overall state budget.6 Of the P-12 budget appropriations, equalization grants amounted to $1, 986,183,701 for FY 2018 and $2,017,131,405 for FY 2019 representing. Education Cost Sharing funds, the state's equalization grants, were cut by $30 million to all but the 30 lowest performing districts for FY 2018.7 The 30 Alliance districts will be funded based on 2017 levels.8 The remaining $30 million will be distributed among the remaining 139 towns. Higher education allocations totaled just over $1 billion, representing roughly 4% of the total state budget for the biennium ending in June 30, 2019.
CHANGES TO FUNDING FORM ULA FOR P-12 EDUCATION
The Education Cost Sharing formula, Connecticut's method for funding equalization between school districts, was modified in the biennial budget. The updated funding formula would send more money to lower income school districts. According to the Connecticut Conference for Municipalities, "A more progressive and predictable cost sharing formula (ECS) was enacted for the second year of the budget that is designed to be more reflective of what is occurring in our communities."9 For example, the modified ECS formula gives districts 15% more for each English learner and 5% more weight for districts that have more than 75% low-income students. It also increases weighting of median income to 30% and directs the state departments of education and social services to devise a new measurement for high need public schools that moves away from the use of free and reduced price meals as the metric for need.10 [End Page 240]
PRESSING STATE ISSUES AFFECTING P-12 EDUCATION
In September 2016, the trial court declared the entire K-12 education system in violation of students' constitutional right to an adequate education and called for the legislature to develop a constitutional plan within 180 days.11 Defendants appealed the decision on the grounds that the trial court's ruling was unduly sweeping in scope and inherently contradictory. Despite the trial court's assertion that plaintiffs failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Connecticut schools have failed to provide an equitable education, it still ordered an extensive overhaul of public education. Defendants charged that the ruling...