At the State Board of Education’s last meeting before Gov. Dannel Malloy makes his appointments, members decided not to vote on a proposal to overhaul how magnet, charter and public schools in the state are financed.
“So, we will leave that to the next board,” said chairman Allan Taylor, who was visibly irritated that the proposal was tabled.
The recommendation would have state funding reallocated on the basis of how much a local school district’s costs are actually reduced when a student leaves the system for an alternative program–a partial “money follows the child” approach.
It was a compromise reached after months of work by a broad coalition, including the Connecticut Association of School Superintendents, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and the New Haven-based reform group ConnCAN.
But that coalition began to fracture Wednesday at the state education board meeting.
“I am not sure these recommendations will do anything to improve education,” said Joshua Starr, the superintendent of Stamford Public Schools and the head of the Connecticut Association of Urban Superintendents representing 19 school districts.
“Our urban students need more, not less,” said Sharon Beloin-Saavedra, president of the New Britain Board of Education.
The leader of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, Joe Cirasuolo, a member of the special committee that drafter the plan, continued to maintain his support. But James Finley, head of CCM who also helped draft the recommendations, stepped back Wednesday.
“CCM does not support money follows the child,” he told the board. Last month when approving the recommendations he voiced support because it would only have the money that is actually saved by the district follow the child to their new school.
There are almost 560,000 students enrolled in traditional public schools compared to 48,000 students in magnets, charters or other choice programs. Thousands of students apply each year to choice programs but aren’t accepted because there aren’t enough spots available.
Speakers also said it would be near impossible to come up with a formula to identify the actual savings for a district when a student leaves, if they save at all.
“We still need to fund our principal, our custodian, our building secretary, our school nurses, our social workers and psychologist and we still have to pay utilities and plow the snow,” said Beloin-Saavedra.
But Brian Mahoney, the chief financial officer for the SDOE, said during an interview he is confident such a formula could be accurately made.
After 90 minutes of testimony from public education leaders from across the state — mostly critical of the proposal — state board members decided to pass on taking a stand in what will be their last meeting together. The terms of eight of the 11 board members expire before the next meeting, and Malloy will get to choose their replacements.
During a 10-minute discussion, board members said they need more information and more in-depth recommendations on other issues facing education financing.
“It’s very disappointing what’s been produced by this committee,” said Janet Finneran of Bethany, the board’s vice-chair.
“There needs to be a lot more work,” said Beverly Bobrosk, a member from Bristol. “Let’s stop being afraid to talk about it.”
But Taylor said after the meeting that by deciding to table the proposal, board members showed they were influenced by the public comments, which was dominated by fear of change.
“I am sorry to have the discussion dominated by fear. Which is what just happened,” he said.
Alex Johnston of ConnCAN said he doesn’t buy the argument board members didn’t have enough information to make an informed decision.
“We went through very vigorous debate and it was a lot of work,” said Johnston, referring to the special committee’s weekly meetings. Board members were invited to attend the meetings, many of which also were broadcast on the state’s public affairs television network, CT-N. “They found themselves unable to take a position. This underscores why we need strong leadership to move forward on school finance reform.”
Taylor said for 25 years education advocates and leaders have been calling on reforming how schools are financed, and the state board opting to pass on taking a stand is detrimental.
“We have to figure out recommendations and move this debate forward,” he said.
Malloy, who has been highly critical of the way the state finances schools, said at a press conference Wednesday that the funding formula does need an overhaul, but said it is not likely that will happen this year.