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Teacher Pension Costs as Municipal Aid, CT on Ending the #TranscriptTrap, Student Homelessness Rises

Teacher Pension Costs as Municipal Aid

Last week, the PIE Network held an event on teacher pension debt, focusing on the fact that the costs of unfunded liabilities have grown substantially over the past two decades. The event featured pension expert Anthony Randazzo of the Equable Institute, who argues that as pension liabilities grow, they take on a bigger share of K-12 spending, amounting to hidden funding cuts to the K-12 system. Anthony mentioned a report that was jointly written with our affiliate, ERN CT, which identifies Connecticut's state-level coverage of all municipal pension obligations as a subsidy; on a per pupil basis, it's a subsidy that favors wealthy, less diverse, and higher performing districts. (Throwback to that report here.)

Also last week, Joe DeLong, Executive Director and CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, recently published a CT Post opinion criticizing Governor Lamont's claim that municipal aid has increased by 59% during his tenure. DeLong claims that within that 59% are increased payments to the teachers' retirement system. "These payments go to a state-implemented and state-run retirement system," he writes. "This is not aid to municipalities." As ERN CT’s report makes clear, that’s not entirely true. The state covers the entirety of teacher pension obligations, even though they accrue at the municipal level and are based on the human resources decisions within local districts. Most states do not fully fund the normal cost of teacher pensions; so, when Connecticut does, that's definitely municipal aid... and it's doled out inequitably.

This debate is particularly timely in the context of an ongoing negotiation between education stakeholders (including CCM), the legislature, and Governor Lamont, regarding a proposal to accelerate the schedule to fully fund the state's Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula. (See Thursday’s coverage from the Hartford Courant, which identifies the ECS effort as incredibly important, but one of many competing priorities for funding in this year’s biennial budget.) Regardless of how this saga wraps up, we think teacher pension costs are bound to be the next frontier for education resource equity; annually, they account for over a quarter of the state’s overall K-12 education budget.

CT Makes Progress on Ending the #TranscriptTrap

On Friday, Hearst Connecticut Media's John Moritz covered the legislature's efforts to ban Connecticut colleges and universities from withholding a student's transcripts due to unpaid debts. S.B. No. 922—An Act Prohibiting an Institution of Higher Education from Withholding Transcripts—seeks to end the highly discriminatory practice, which targets students with any unpaid debts, even small amounts unrelated to tuition. We call it the #TranscriptTrap, and our research on this issue last year identified that 100% of Connecticut institutions of higher education explicitly use this practice.

The Higher Education Committee advanced a bill to end the Transcript Trap last year, and when that bill didn’t cross the finish line, they revived it again this year. In her testimony regarding SB 922, ERN CT Executive Director Amy Dowell wrote, “This punitive and excessive practice prevents students who have run into financial hardship from pursuing further educational opportunities or productive jobs. It transforms a road bump into a roadblock—significantly impeding the success of students who are struggling.” The bill advanced unanimously through the Senate on Thursday. Kudos to the members of the Higher Education Committee, Co-Chairs Rep. Gregg Haddad and Sen. Derek Slap, Vice Chair Ceci Maher, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff for being champions of Connecticut’s students!

Student Homelessness on the Rise

According to a weekend story in CT Insider, homelessness among students dipped during the pandemic, but data from the federal and state governments indicate that it’s on the rise again. In the 2021-22 school year, 31 districts reported having 20 or more students who lack a "fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence." The article describes several factors that might explain the data, including: rising housing costs, low vacancy rates, the end to pandemic-era relief initiatives, and an increase in mental health issues.

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