A bill headed for the governor’s desk allows the leaders in many cities and towns to drastically cut the amount they spend on education. The measure was approved unanimously by legislators in the General Assembly but adamantly opposed by many educators.
“What this bill does is provide some flexibility for municipalities,” Sen. Gayle Slossberg, the Senate leader of the Education Committee, said Saturday after the Senate approved the bill. Slossberg said she does not expect towns to make big cuts in education spending.
“That’s not the history. We haven’t seen that towns want to make wholesale cuts — if so we may have to revisit this law,” said Slossberg, D-Milford.
If the governor signs the bill into law, municipalities will be able to cut local support for their schools by millions more than current law allows. This year, municipalities were eligible to cut spending on education by $22.5 million.
Current law allows a town to cut its spending by up to $3,000 per student if student enrollment declines or if it can prove that the schools have achieved efficiencies. This school year, 10 districts reduced the amount they will spend on education compared to last year. Districts spend on average $15,000 a year for each student enrolled.
The new bill would allow some towns to cut by thousands more per student. The state’s 30 lowest-performing districts would not be allowed to cut spending but the state’s highest-performing districts would have no limitations. The remaining districts would be able to cut between 1.5 to 3 percent each year.
This year 14 towns provided their school districts with the bare minimum amount of funding necessary to comply with state law — known as the Minimum Budget Requirement. Twenty-six others were within one percent of spending the minimum, according to data provided by the State Department of Education.
Many school leaders struggle each year to get the funding they feel is necessary to run their schools, and the Minimum Budget Requirement has acted as a floor to prevent towns from making major cuts to their budget.
“Providing for a reduction of the MBR in cases of declining enrollment of 50 percent of the [per student spending] will leave many boards of education unable to meet the ongoing costs of salaries, health benefits and transportation,” the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education testified in March.
“Local school superintendents would not ordinarily support legislation authorizing reductions in annual school appropriations. And in fact, I do not support” the bill, Bernard Josefsberg, the superintendent of Regional School District 9 testified. “The bill vests too much power in the Board of Finance.”
Connecticut Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell testified that while she supports providing relief to towns, the bill could lead to “unintended consequences.”
But proponents — who included House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey — said such large reductions may be warranted when student enrollment declines, as has been the case in numerous districts across the state.
“The reality is that, as many of us know, school districts are losing population,” Sharkey, D-Hamden, told the Education Committee in March. “In just about every school district in the state of Connecticut, enrollments have declined in the last five years. Yet over on this side, the total column in terms of expenditures are mostly black, and this is not subtle, minor variations.”
How much each city and town will be able to cut next year, if the governor signs the bill, has not been made available yet.