The ECS formula: why is broken, why it is important

With all the talk and worry about the state's dire fiscal situation one important discussion has gone unnoticed this month: the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula task force.

The ECS formula is one of those crucially forgotten but incredibly important portions of the state budget that is usually ignored in most debates. Following several court rulings that stated that funding education solely using property taxes did not guarantee equal access and opportunity to all students, the legislature was forced to step in providing assistance to municipalities. The initial promise, dating back to the seventies, was that the state would cover half of all education costs, distributing the money in a way that provided more resources to the poorest school districts. Decades later, the ECS formula is the latest incarnation of  this promise. The big issue is, however, that the formula is broken beyond repair.

Truth is, Connecticut is actually not really even applying the ECS formula now.The state barely covers 40% of education budgets, and the money is distributed close to a completely random manner. CAHS has recently released a policy brief (PDF) delving on this subject, and explaining why fixing the ECS formula is a must if we want to close the achievement gap in the state.

Connecticut is exceptional in its overreliance on the property tax to fund public education. This tax is eminently regressive, as poorer towns with smaller tax bases are forced to charge higher mill rates than wealthier suburbs to offer the same services. This, paired with the higher educational needs in poor districts and a state cost sharing system that neither provides enough resources nor assigns them to the districts that need them the most makes the work of the task force vitally important for the state.

The task force will release its final report in the coming weeks, with a first draft on how money will be distributed to be made available in their next meeting.We will follow up with the details as soon as they become available.

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