Gov. Dannel P. Malloy asked state legislators today to send an additional $50 million to local school districts, a move that school advocates say will cover a small portion of what the state actually owes them.
“It’s still a long shot off,” said Dianne Kaplan DeVreis, the leader of a coalition of municipalities suing the state for chronically underfunding education.
Estimates by DeVreis, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the State Department of Education’s budget office show that the state owes education at least $725 million more a year for the state’s education funding formula to work as intended.
“This $50 million is totally symbolic,” DeVreis said of Malloy’s closing the shortfall by 7 percent. “Don’t get me wrong, the budgets in these districts are a disaster, and it is really a godsend.”
Malloy’s plan released this morning will funnel additional money to 120 districts, with the largest percentage increases going to high-need school districts. Stamford’s funding will jump 11.5 percent, Hartford by 2.6 percent and Bridgeport and New Haven by 2.7.
“This will surely help,” said Paul Vallas, the interim superintendent of Bridgeport Public Schools, where failure to close a budget gaps resulted in the State Board of Education voting to replace their school board. This proposal will increase the funding the state sends them by $4.4 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Jim Finley, the leader of CCM, said this new funding is a great down payment.
“It’s a start, but it’s certainly not the answer,” he said. “In a perfect world he would have adjusted the funding to match what it actually cost to educate children.”
He also noted that, it’s not quite $50 million, considering that Malloy’s plan calls on these same towns to pick up some of the cost for it’s students attending charter schools. If this requirement moves forward, and local school districts have to pay $1,000 per student attending a charter schools, the cost totals $6.4 million a year for local districts.
Overall, all of the education proposals Malloy has rolled out over the past week have a total price tag of almost $130 million a year. No municipality will lose funding.
“It’s a substantial investment in the state’s education system,” said Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, noting the funding comes with strings attached. He said for the state’s 30 lowest-achieving districts, they will have to make certain reforms before they can receive the increase. Some of those reforms could include a longer school day or professional development provided when teacher evaluations show a teacher is in need of extra help.
The current formula weighs how much money to send to districts based on the needs of those high-need children. Poverty measurements will change drastically under this proposal. Malloy wants to use the income threshold that qualifies children for the state’s health care plan, which equates to about $40,000 for a family of four. Shifting away from using Title I thresholds, Barnes said, will result in a “significant increase” in the number of children being considered in poverty.
The weight and money directed to districts for the students with limited English proficiency they enroll will not change. Wealthier towns will not lose funding under this plan, but future increases in state funding will not be forthcoming with a shift in minimum allocation requirements. High-performing districts will be given flexibility to cut their budget.
The proposed budget adjustments cut funding to the state’s Vocational Technical High Schools by $9.6 million, a 7 percent cut.