Connecticut’s school funding fix

Connecticut’s public schools face a daunting challenge: How do we deliver a dramatic improvement in achievement without an increase in spending?

With each passing day, we read about entrepreneurs and engineers from the far reaches of the world who are realizing the innovations that will shape our lives for the next hundred years. Will our children have the knowledge and the drive to keep up? At the same time, resources for education will shrink in the years ahead as tax dollars are diverted to support an aging population and to reduce our unsustainable national debt. So we can forget about spending our way out of this crisis.

Someone once said that if George Washington returned to America today, the only institutions he would recognize would be our churches and our schools! Which is to say that few organizations have proven more resistant to change than public education. But change we must if we are to respond to the twin challenges of a global revolution in learning and a declining public revenue base. Connecticut desperately needs a school finance structure that supports the innovation and improvement that our circumstances demand.

Under Connecticut’s existing school finance arrangements, funding varies widely from child to child – even among students with similar educational needs. State aid for students from towns with similar wealth varies by several thousand dollars a year. And funding varies depending on the type of public school that a child attends. A system with these sorts of flaws is not fair to our children or our taxpayers. Add to that the urgent need to address Connecticut’s “worst in the nation” achievement gap, and it’s obvious that we need a more transparent way to encourage reform and improvement in our schools. Fortunately, the General Assembly has an opportunity to enact such a system in the form of Senate Bill 1195: An Act Concerning School Finance Reform. S.B. 1195 makes sense for Connecticut because it:

  • Promotes innovation by providing a fair share of state financial support for all children, whether they attend traditional district schools, public charter schools or magnet schools. As a result, leaders who create effective schools that translate limited tax dollars into maximum results for their students will be able to attract the resources they need to sustain and expand their operations.
  • Directs funding to the schools that students actually attend. Believe it or not, our current system does not always do so.
  • Recognizes that learning needs can vary considerably from one child to another by providing more funds to students who live in poverty and to students who require special services.
  • Takes account of differences in each town’s “ability to pay”, directing more state assistance to communities with limited property wealth and income.
  • Assures a minimum level of state education funding for every town, regardless of wealth.
  • Fosters accountability by providing for a clear and unified system of public school finance that every citizen can understand and every school leader can count on to deliver a fair share of resources to her or his students.

In a recent survey sponsored by the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), 75% of voters agreed that “state funding for public education should follow individual students to whatever public school they choose to attend…” And 91% agreed that we need “a simple, transparent, and fair funding system that funds students based on their needs, regardless of what public school they attend.”

As a lifelong advocate for quality public schools, and as a citizen concerned about the economic challenges confronting our state, I urge the General Assembly to pass SB1195 this year.

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