New funding for districts held hostage by larger debate over education reform

Legislators and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy may agree that an education overhaul package will include a $40 million bump in funding for districts that make necessary reforms. But the governor warned municipal leaders from the lowest-achieving districts Thursday not to count on that money.

He will not sign the bill pending before the legislature that stripped many of his initiatives, even though it still includes the new funding.

“They should not be depending on this money,” said Malloy, flanked at the state Capitol by a bipartisan group of 22 mayors and first selectmen from the lowest-performing districts. “I think this money is very much in the lurch until we have an educational bill that we can agree on.”


New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio: ‘Yesterday would have been a good time to know if we were getting that money.’

And the administration has had no formal meetings with the teachers’ unions since the Education and Appropriations committees downgraded his proposals weeks ago. Many legislators are hesitant to sign off on an overhaul that the unions vehemently oppose.

The dropped initiatives include tying teacher evaluations to tenure and salary decisions, and giving the education commissioner the authority to bypass union contracts in the state’s 25 worst performing schools.

Several mayors said they hope lawmakers can get past this impasse and get a bill passed that sends them additional money.

“We would greatly benefit from those funds, but I could not in good conscience include that in our budget,” New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said after meeting with Malloy and the other municipal leaders. “Yesterday would have been a good time to know if we were getting that money.”

As in President Obama’s Race to the Top, the money, in this case $40 million, is being offered to those districts willing to make certain reforms.

“This has broad support,” said House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey D-Hamden. “We’re not just going to just write a blank check [to school districts] and say ‘Go at it.'”

The state currently spends more than $2.8 billion a year on education, which is almost 15 percent of the state’s budget. The money is awarded regardless of what kind of reforms districts make or the results they achieve. Funding is based on a predetermined formula, and high-need districts receive grants to pay for specific programs.

The education overhaul plan, the administration and legislators agree, will have $40 million for the 30 lowest-performing districts to apply for. Some of the reforms that could land Bridgeport, for example, with an additional $4.4 million next school year include extended school days or promoting teachers based on their performance evaluations. The education commissioner and the State Board of Education would determine if the plan is bold enough to warrant new funding.

“I have more failing schools than anyone in that room. … We need to create schools that are more accountable,” said Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch.

alliance districts

He and several other mayors think that tying new state funding to promised reforms makes sense.

“It’s a great start,” Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said of the $4.8 million in new funding his schools may get. “We will definitely be applying. … We aren’t counting on it though.”

If the Democratic-controlled legislature and Malloy work out their major differences on teacher tenure and state limiting collective bargaining in the worst schools, then both sides acknowledge the $40 million will be included in the final bill.

“It looks promising for them,” said Commissioner Stefan Pryor of these low-achieving districts. “This is a critical component of a much larger education package.”

Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the Education Committee, agreed with the governor that towns should not bank on this money because an agreement is still a long way off and only four weeks remain before the legislative session adjourns.

“If I was the [budget chief] for these districts, I would have a backup plan in case nothing happens,” he said. “We all want to make sure the money is there that these districts need… This is good education policy.”