Higher education cut, local school aid flat in Malloy budget

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposal cuts support for the state’s public colleges and universities, provides level funding for state aid to school districts, offers financial aid to undocumented students, and would fund four new charter schools.

The proposal also reneges on a campaign promise to create a tax credit for student-loan debt but would implement a tax credit the governor promised for retired teachers’ pensions.

It also doesn’t provide full operating funding for two long-term initiatives — Next Generation and Transform CSCU — that Malloy has championed for two years to improve the University of Connecticut, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, and Connecticut Community Colleges.

However, the governor still expects UConn to implement Next Generation, an initiative that hires staff to boost enrollment in science, technology, engineering and math.

The cuts are certain to put significant pressure on college leaders to further raise tuition or reduce how many people they employ.

“Any reduction in our state appropriation would require a cut to all areas of the university, including positions. It would significantly prohibit our ability to meet our intended goals and maintain current services,” UConn Budget Director Katrina Spencer wrote to the governor’s budget director in October when agencies were asked to find budget cuts.

Malloy’s budget proposes an overall cut of $10.6 million for UConn. Anticipating cuts, deans at UConn have asked their department heads to come up with plans for reduced state support, and some non-tenured faculty have been notified their contracts would not be renewed next school year, the Faculty Senate reports.

The governor’s proposed funding for UConn is $39 million under what the university says it needs to maintain current programs and staffing levels.

The state’s dozen community colleges, four regional Connecticut State Universities and online Charter Oak State College face a $20.6 million cut, but say they will be $38 million short of what they need to continue existing programs.

That CSCU system has faced significant fiscal challenges, with the community colleges’ reserves hitting a historic low.

Gregory Gray, the Board of Regents’ president, said during an interview that the proposed funding levels will be hard to deal with.

“We would face some significant cutbacks,” he said. “We are getting very close to that line where we won’t be able to operate.”

Gray and his governing board have said they hope to raise tuition by no more than 2 percent for the upcoming fiscal year. Gray could not commit Wednesday to such a small increase if the governor’s budget is approved by the legislature. He said he does not intend to seek concessions from faculty or other employee unions.

“It hasn’t been discussed,” he said.

The cost to run the state’s public colleges and universities has continued to rise by tens of millions of dollars each year, and state support has not kept pace. For example, the $235 million the state provided to UConn in 2000 covered 43 percent of the school’s budget. Fifteen years later, the $308 million the state provided the school last fiscal year covered just 28 percent of the university’s budget.

Tuition has increasingly made up for reductions in state support. Tuition and mandatory fees to attend UConn rose by $738 from last school year to the current year. At the regional Connecticut State Universities, tuition and fees increased by $178.

UConn has already approved plans to increase tuition by 6.2 percent next school year to hire dozens of additional tenure-track faculty.

It’s unclear what specific cuts UConn will consider making.

“We will need to take the time to determine what specific impacts may be, but managing a reduction of that size will necessitate deep and significant cuts throughout the university,” UConn President Susan Herbst said in a statement.

In previous years, the Malloy administration has urged that tuition increases be keep to a minimum and linked to inflation. Ben Barnes, the governor’s budget chief, said the administration has no such expectations for the schools as they adopt their upcoming budgets.

“I would hope that they wouldn’t raise tuition, but I also understand they are faced with some difficult decisions,” Barnes said.

The governor’s budget does include hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide undocumented immigrants financial aid at the state’s public colleges and universities. Barnes said the scholarships may begin as early as this fall semester and could benefit hundreds of students.

In 2011, state legislators passed a law to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates. Gray said making financial aid available to these students is the right thing to do.

Education funding

State aid that helps municipalities run their schools is funded at the same level as last year in the governor’s budget. Meanwhile, funding for school choice increases by $57.9 million over the next two years.

“We must maintain our commitment to funding public education. While other states may choose to balance their budgets on the backs of public schools, Connecticut will not,” Malloy told legislators during his budget address. “I will not sign a budget that is balanced on the backs of our towns or our public schools.”

That school-choice funding will open 1,800 new seats in magnet schools in the Hartford region to comply with an order by the Connecticut Supreme Court to desegregate Hartford’s schools. It will also open four new charter schools — one each in Bridgeport, Stamford, and two other undisclosed locations — that will enroll at least 1,862 new students.

The proposed increase for these schools did not sit well with the Senate chair of the legislature’s budget-writing committee.

“I am not pleased, but it’s just the beginning of the process,” said Sen. Beth Bye, West Hartford.

Bye and several other legislators have expressed concern that state funding to open new magnet and charter schools has outpaced increased state support to operate neighborhood schools.

Charter advocates, however, were grateful.

“It’s clear that the governor understands just how important it is to have great schools for every child,” Kiesha Council, a Bridgeport parent and member of The Coalition for Every Child, a charter advocacy organization. “More parents need to have the same choices that I had because great schools can make the difference.”

State support for charter schools over the last five years has increased by $38 million a year — a 72 percent increase that helped boost enrollment by 2,300 students. State support for magnet schools has increased by $119.6 million — a 69 percent increase that helped boost enrollment by 12,481 students. Meanwhile, state support for traditional districts that enroll 90 percent of the state’s public schools has increased by $150 million — an 8 percent increase.

“We need to fund the schools where students attend,” said Bye, adding she could accept increases in funding for magnet and charter schools if traditional public schools also received similar increases. “We need to be on equitable footing.”

The state is headed for trial in October to defend the level of education aid the state provides to communities. The Connecticut Supreme Court five years ago ruled that children in the state have the right to “suitable educational opportunities” and sent the case to a lower court to decide whether such an education is being provided.

Full-day kindergarten; expanding preschool

The governor proposes requiring that every district provide full-day kindergarten by the 2017-18 school year.

School districts without full-day kindergarten
The state defines full-day kindergarten as providing students with 900 hours of instruction for at least 180 school days.
School District
Canton
Ellington
Farmington
Marlborough
Orange
Oxford
Plainfield
Redding
Regional School District 16
Wallingford
Watertown
West Haven
CT Mirror reporting

“Ironically, even when our kids get a full-day pre-k experience, some of them are still graduating into a kindergarten program that only teaches them for half the day. It just doesn’t make sense,” said Malloy. “We’ll make sure all our youngsters receive the time they need to learn and reach their full potential – right from the moment they enter elementary school.”

Only 12 districts in Connecticut don’t currently provide full-day kindergarten for every child. Last school year, those districts had 2,997 kindergarten students enrolled, though some of those districts do provide some of their students with full-day kindergarten. The state defines full-day kindergarten as providing 900 hours of instruction for at least 180 school days. No state funding is provided to help districts implement full-day kindergarten.

The legislature last year approved plans to increase the number of high-quality seats for an additional 2,020 students next fiscal year. The budget only provides $5 million in new funding, which would provide about 1,000 new slots.

“I’m proud that last year we began the important work of moving Connecticut toward universal pre-kindergarten,” he said during his budget address Thursday.

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