Co-Chairs McCrory and Currey, Vice Chairs Winfield and Leeper, Ranking Members Berthel and McCarty and members of the Education Committee–thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony on HB 6884, An Act Concerning the Recruitment, Retention and Enhancement of the Teaching Profession. I am Amy Dowell, Executive Director of Education Reform Now CT (ERN CT).
My comments today focus upon Section 19 of HB 6884—which would establish a task force to study the financing of the teachers' retirement system, with a focus upon resource equity and municipal contributions towards the normal cost of teacher pensions. This idea was borne out of research conducted jointly by ERN CT and the Equable Institute in 2021.
Connecticut’s annual teacher pension contributions account for over a quarter of the state’s overall K-12 education budget. Alarmingly, these resources are allocated very inequitably because they are largely based upon the salary levels that are set by local districts.
By covering 100% of the costs of local teacher pension obligations, Connecticut is subsidizing districts at more than twice the rate for white students as for students of color; twice the rate for more affluent students than for their peers from low-income families; and also at a higher rate for high-performing districts than for districts with lower performance.
As an example, in the 2019-20 school year, the student population in the New Canaan Public School District was 82.2% white and 100% ineligible for Free or Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL). Its Per Pupil Pension Subsidy from the state was $2,912. In contrast, 84.7% of Waterbury Public School District's students were students of color and 80.8% were FRPL-eligible, but the state's Per Pupil Pension Subsidy to Waterbury was only $1,756.
That is over a $1,000 difference per pupil between the two districts. Discrepancies like these exacerbate resource inequities, disadvantaging higher-need districts when it comes to teacher compensation and competitiveness.
We are grateful to the Co-Chairs of the Education Committee for taking this issue seriously and for seeking a more fair and sustainable solution to teacher pension financing. However, as drafted in Section 19(b), the current makeup of the task force would fail to capture the interests of either students or student resource equity.
Since the explicit purpose of this task force is to consider the financing of teacher pensions as a matter of resource equity for students, we urge that you amend this section to fairly balance the interests at stake by including: (1) a representative of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus; (2) two representatives who have experience in advocacy targeting educational success, free from discrimination; and (3) an unbiased third party with expertise in both teacher pensions and school finance—who can provide data and research regarding national trends on this complicated issue.
While it is important to have representatives of the adult interests for those who are beneficiaries and administrators of the teachers’ retirement system, we also need to have an honest dialogue about the need for change and the interests of students represented at the table.
Please amend this legislation accordingly.