Legislation that would allow communities in which student populations have declined markedly to cut school funding appears likely to pass this year–but some hard-pressed cities and towns won’t be eligible.
Rep. Andy Fleischmann, the co-chairman of the Education Committee, said legislative leaders and the Malloy Administration have agreed on a measure that would allow municipalities to cut education spending–but only if they have had “sizable” reductions in the student population, and only if their schools reach federal education benchmarks.
“We don’t want to make massive reductions possible,” Fleischmann said.
Towns are currently required to spend at least as much on education as they spent the previous year in order to qualify for state education aid. Local officials have complained for years that the requirement is an unfair burden.
“Town government has no say how much they spend. This disenfranchises town’s democracy,” said James Finley, executive director of Connecticut Council of Municipalities.
The original proposal, backed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, would have allowed all municipalities to cut education spending when school enrollment drops. The compromise, Fleischmann said, will only allow districts that make Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law to cut their spending.
Last school year 33 school districts did not make AYP, including the state’s largest cities and many inner-ring suburbs.
“If there’s a district that has been performing well, [and their student census has declined] I would like to allow them to reduce their budget. That’s rational,” said Fleischmann.
Municipal and school officials alike were dissatisfied with the compromise.
“We are somewhat disappointed by this. We were hoping there would be more significant relief in the end,” Finley said. “It remains to be seen how effective this will be.”
Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said it doesn’t make sense to allow districts that meet AYP requirements to cut spending.
“How much longer do you think they will reach those goals if their budgets are cut? That’s a very questionable public policy,” he said.
Abbey Dolliver, the superintendent of Norwich Public Schools, stood to lose more than $400,000 the upcoming school year under the original proposal. But her district has did not make AYP last year, so town officials will not be able to cut her budget.
“I will take it, but what happens when we make that [goal]? It’s like you are being punished for being good,” she said. “As soon as you make progress and get to where you need to be resources can be taken from us. Any resources being taken away is going to be very detrimental.