Legislators say proposed school cuts would shift burden to towns

Rep. Toni Walker

The CT Mirror

Rep. Toni Walker

Top Democratic legislators are convinced the $69.7 million Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposes to cut from education will result either in local property tax increases or major program reductions in schools throughout the state.

Additionally, an $8 million cut the Democratic governor is proposing for special education may put millions in federal aid in jeopardy, according to the State Department of Education.

The state’s largest funding source for education – the Education Cost Sharing grant – is flat-funded in the governor’s proposed state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. But cuts are proposed to a number of other state education grants.

“Who is going to make up that difference? It’s going to be passed on to the towns,” Rep. Toni Walker, the House chairwoman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, told the governor’s education commissioner last week during a budget hearing. “In saying it’s not going to impact the towns, it does in every way, shape and fashion. I just want to make sure everyone understands that and we not mince words.”

The governor’s office has been adamant that municipalities have been protected in the governor’s proposed budget, and on the day Malloy released his budget, his staff distributed a graphic to reporters to highlight that point.

Benjamin Barnes, the governor’s budget chief, has since explained to legislators on several occasions that municipal aid would actually increase when factoring in a new state grant – the Municipal Revenue Sharing Account – that would distribute to towns a portion of the state’s sales tax.

But that doesn’t negate the list of education grants that have been either cut or flat-funded for years and are now the targets of proposed cuts for next year. The proposed cuts include $1.5 million for school transportation, $1.6 million for adult education, $2.6 million for low-achieving districts and $8 million for special education.

In addition, the governor proposes an $18 million cut for magnet schools and $52 million in still-to-be-identified cuts to the State Department of Education’s budget.

“The thing that strikes me really the most in this budget is that it’s been stated that the governor and his office are going to protect the municipalities and the towns from bearing any of these burdens, and I see the ECS is held harmless,” said Walker, “but there are so many other [cuts] – $69.7 million – that are going to go directly to the towns. Which is kind of a misrepresentation, I think, in the way the sound bites have gone. So this is really a little upsetting.”

Legislators were told this week by officials at the State Department of Education that the cuts to special education could put at risk millions in federal funding. Federal law requires states to spend at least the same amount on special education from year to year to ensure federal funding does not supplant local support.

The committee also was told that cuts in state funding for adult education programs from fiscal 2014 to 2015 resulted in serving 2,508 fewer people – a 10 percent dip. New Haven saw the largest decline with 455 fewer people enrolled. Bridgeport and adult programs in the state’s prison each served nearly 300 fewer people.

Adult education programs provide residents who dropped out of high school  the opportunity to earn their GED and helps non-English speakers learn the language.

And although the ECS grant is spared cuts, the proposed budget does not include an $11.5 million increase in ECS funding that legislators were promised in return for including millions of dollars to open two new charter schools in the two-year budget they adopted last June.

“That is a cut in ECS. It is not funded as it originally was promised. Many of the members up here fought very hard for those dollars,” Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, the senate chair of the Appropriations Committee, told the education commissioner. Her district stood to gain $1.5 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

About Jacqueline Rabe Thomas
jacqueline_rabe

Jacqueline won two first prizes from the national Education Writers Association for her work in 2012 – one in beat reporting for her overall education coverage, and the other, with Keith Phaneuf, in investigative reporting on a series of stories revealing questionable monetary and personnel actions taken by the Board of Regents for Higher Education. Before coming to The Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.'s Maryland newspaper chains. She has also worked for Congressional Quarterly and the Toledo Free Press. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Jacqueline is in the public policy master’s program at Trinity College. E-mail her at jrabe@ctmirror.org.

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