JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT
AN ACT CONCERNING THE EXCESS COST THRESHOLD AND THE COLLECTION AND REPORTING OF DATA RELATING TO SPECIAL EDUCATION EXPENDITURES.
Joint Favorable Substitute Change of Reference to Appropriations
SPONSORS OF BILL:
Senator Martin M. Looney, 11th District
REASONS FOR BILL:
This bill would gradually phase in a change to the Excess Cost threshold of the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant, reducing the excess cost required of a local school board on special education cost per student from 4.5 times the average per pupil to 2 times the average. That change is intended to reduce the burden on local school budgets before state support to special education pupils is added.
Proposed Substitute Bill 1056 creates a new definition for “net current expenditures per resident student”. The Substitute Bill creates a new, separate report for district special education expenditures; where the Raised Bill had the information included as part of the strategic school profile. In Section 3, language was added requiring the State Department of Education has to disaggregate data related to special education expenditures from local school districts.
RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:
Interim Commissioner of Education Dianna R. Wentzell: Commissioner Wentzell testified that the bill as proposed “raises concerns regarding new data reporting requirements that would substantially increase burden at the local and state level.” The commissioner welcomes the opportunity to continue to have a dialogue with the General Assembly to reach the best solution for all parties.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:
Gayle Weinstein, First Selectman, Town of Weston: First Selectman Weinstein testified on behalf of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities in support of the bill. In her testimony she remarked that, “reducing the threshold factor from 4.5 to a lower level, as proposed in SB1056, would allow the state grant to pick up more of these high costs, relieving some of the local burden.”
Betsy Gara, Executive Director, Connecticut Council of Small Towns: COST supports the bill because the changing costs associated with special education create difficulty in managing local budgets. Passage of the bill would help towns receive a greater share of special education funding and begin to stabilize education costs.
Connecticut Association of Boards of Education: CABE supports the bill but strongly urged that the cap on the special education cost grant be removed to provide additional relief to school districts. Their testimony remarks that the grant's safety net is destroyed by the cap and, “reduces the ability of school districts to serve the needs of all students enrolled in the district, and creates fiscal uncertainty at the local level.”
Randy Collins, Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents: Mr. Collins and CAPSS support the bill and cited the growing lack of funding in state and federal grants and the cap in the ECS Grant to special education as a burden on school districts. “Which the timeline proposed in S.B. 1056 is far out into the future and CAPSS would have liked a more rapid redefinition of excess cost...this bill if signed into law will at least provide some stability and assurance to our school systems that things will change.”
Jeff Leake, Vice President, Connecticut Education Association: Mr. Leake and the CEA support, with qualifications, the bill. The CEA recognizes the burden that special education costs currently have put on school budgets.
Kenneth Feder, Connecticut Voices for Children: Mr. Feder testified in support of the bill. Connecticut Voices for Children noted that the bill would begin to make distribution of aid more equitable because, “towns with many low-cost special education students would receive more comparable reimbursement to towns with a small number of high-cost special education students.”
Patricia Charles, Superintendent of Middletown Schools: Ms. Charles supports the bill testifying to the uncertainty placed on school districts because of the cap on reimbursements.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:
Jim Finley, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding: Mr. Finley objected to the bill on the grounds that the State's failure to commit in the biennium to fully fund ECS will lead to the bill's failure and that the bill was a promise for funding in future budgets that “kicked the can down the road.” The CCJEF is not optimistic testifying that “when the time comes to implement…it's likely the statute will again be amended – and/or the cap on the Excess Cost Grant will negate any relief.”
Reported by: Joshua Flores, Assistant Clerk