WATERFORD–Parents, school officials and teacher unions had one message for the panel responsible for resolving the highly-criticized formula used for financing schools across the state: Increase funding.
“I’m sure you’ve heard what I’m going to say from a lot of people. [State funding] is not hitting anywhere near an actual reflection of what the actual costs are,” Donald Blevins, chairman of the Waterford Board of Education and president of the state’s school board association, told the panel.
The state’s largest teachers union says the poorest districts are underfunded $5,300 per student and statewide the shortfall is $1.5 billion a year.
But top officials say the reality is the state is strapped financially and the chances of a wave of additional money being approved for schools is nil.
“I’m not going to deny that more money would be an advantageous component,” said Benjamin Barnes, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget chief, shocked by the $1.5 billion shortfall in state funding cited by the Connecticut Education Association. “I flinched.”
A parent of three children at the last public hearing in New Haven brought an tiny apple pie to convey the same message of state underfunding education.
“The pie is too small,” Esther Santana told the panel, which is co-chaired by Barnes and Sen. Andrea Stillman, senate chair of the legislature’s Education Committee.
Three out of every ten dollars spent on education in Connecticut comes from the state, which is comparable to other Northeast states, according to the State Department of Education in its annual report released earlier this month.
But parents and education officials at Tuesdays meeting said the state has a more severe achievement gap between low-income students and their peers than the surrounding states.
“It’s simply unacceptable to underfund education,” said Erika Haynes, a parent of four children in Windham, a district that the state recently intervene in for failing too many children. Money ” is the root cause of where Windham is today.”
No one on the financing panel disagreed during the three-hour barrage of requests for more funding that additional money wouldn’t help, but they aren’t expecting to find a pot of money. Rather, the panel intends to figure out how to more fairly disperse the $1.9 billion the state is providing.
“We all have the recognition that there is a bottom line… What would you do if we didn’t have another dollar?” asked Sen. Toni N. Harp, D-New Haven and the co-chair of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee.
That comment solicited whispers from the packed school cafeteria that a formula with no additional funding would be horrible, but not a surprise.
“It’s a shame… I don’t know about formulas. I don’t know about percentages. I know that more money needs to go to education,” said Susy Reyes, a parent with one child in Bridgeport Public Schools, another district the state recently intervened in and replaced their board of education.
Rep. J. Brendan Sharkey of Hamden, the House Majority Leader, said earlier in the day he is expecting the panel to provide lawmakers a realistic path to better funding schools, which does not include a request for additional funding.
“I don’t envision that we are going to have more funding,” he said. “You can’t solve the formula by adding more money, they need to make sure we have an equitable system.”
The task force has set a goal of releasing a proposed overhaul to the school financing formula by next fall.