Parent groups, magnet and charter schools left off school finance panel

The task force named this week to propose reforms to the way the state finances local education includes a number of high-level members from the Malloy Administration, the legislature and the education world–but no representation from a parent organization or a magnet or charter school.

“It’s a very top-heavy panel. If you are going to discuss education Connecticut, don’t you think it makes sense to have parents at the table?” Gwen Samuel, executive director of the Connecticut Parents Union, asked. “If you are going to have a top-down conversation then you are going to get the same results.”

“We’re going to look for input from everyone,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday. Malloy appointed half of the 12-member panel, with legislative leaders naming the other half.

Malloy, who has promised to dedicate next year’s legislative session to reforming education in the state, announced his budget director Ben Barnes and the Sen. Andrea L. Stillman, the co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Education Committee, would lead this new panel. Other members include the leader of the state’s largest teachers’ union, a former state education commissioner, the president of Eastern Connecticut State University and other legislators or traditional public school educators.

Barnes said even without a representative from a parents organization or magnet or charter school on the task force, their opinions will still be welcomed as they shape recommendations over the next four months.

“I have no hesitation that the ideas that those folks bring to the discussion will be part of the deliberation,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to bring some fresh ideas. Not for nothing, there have been more [school funding] task forces than I can count. … It has not been the change agent that you would hope for.”

The problems most often raised with how the state finances education are that the state has not followed the existing formula for years or provided the required annual increases in funding for the formula to work as intended. Critics also say the measures of poverty are too low, rich districts still receive a minimum grant, the figures used to measure a towns wealth are rarely updated and drawn from aged data and students attending alternatives to public schools are not paid for adequately. About 5 percent of the 570,000 public school students in the state attend a magnet or charter school.

“It’s very important that schools of choice be considered and part of this solution,” said Alex Johnston, the executive director of the education reform group ConnCAN. His group encourages non-traditional schools be funded at the same rate from the state, also known as a money-follow-the-child approach. “Had a representative from a charter, magnet, or vo-ag school been on the panel then it would be easy to see how their interests would be heard. … But I certainly believe [this panel] is still capable of considering those perspectives.”

Barnes said the panel that will meet for the first time next week will look at how all schools in the state receiving public money are financed, but said the solution will not likely be a significant boost in funding.

“I’m not certain that we will be able to spend more money on education in the near term because of the fiscal problems that the state faces. I am confident the formula can be improved with the amount of money that is used now,” he said. Collectively, the state spends about $2.8 billion on education each year.

Members appointed by governor are:

  • Benjamin Barnes (Co-Chair) – Secretary, Office of Policy and Management
  • Dudley Williams – Director of District Education Strategy, GE Asset Management, former Assistant to the Commissioner, Department of Education
  • Portia Bonner, Ph.D. – Educational Consultant, Wolcott Public Schools, former Superintendent of Schools, City of New Bedford, Massachusetts
  • Theodore Sergi, Ph.D. – Former Commissioner, Department of Education
  • Dr. Elsa Núñez – President, Eastern Connecticut State University
  • Len Miller – Certified Public Accountant, Co-founder of the Fairfield County Collaborative Alliance, Treasurer of Kids in Crisis, former Chair of Stamford Achieves

Members appointed by legislative leadership are:

  • Senator Andrea Stillman (Co-Chair) – Co-Chair, Education Committee (President Pro Tempore’s selection)
  • Senator Toni Harp – Co-Chair, Appropriations Committee (Senate Majority Leader’s selection)
  • Mark Benigni – Superintendent of Schools, City of Meriden (House Speaker’s selection)
  • Mary Loftus-Levine – Executive Director, Connecticut Education Association (House Majority Leader’s selection)
  • William Davenport – Agriscience teacher, Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury, Director of the Ellis Clark Regional Agriscience & Technology Program (Senate Minority Leader’s selection)
  • Representative Michael Molgano – Member, Education and Finance, Revenue & Bonding Committees (House Minority Leader’s selection)