Deal on charter-school conflict: More funding all around

The state budget deal headed for the legislature Monday would increase funding for both charter schools and neighborhood public schools — the result of a governor insistent on opening new charter schools and pushback from a group of Democratic legislators whose votes are needed to pass a state budget.

“I believe the insistence on additional funding for public schools was a critical step,” Sen. Beth Bye, the Senate chairwoman of the legislature’s powerful budget-writing committee, said during a radio interview on “Where We Live,” WNPR’s weekday public-affairs show.

“You know the governor has priorities, and the legislature has priorities, and the negotiation is a balance of those things. I know from my community it was critical that they had more education dollars for the public schools, and we worked to help some of the more uderfunded cities with this budget.”

According to draft documents of details of the budget, the state’s primary grant that helps municipalities run their schools — the Education Cost Sharing grant — would increase by $23.5 million over this year’s spending.

Bridgeport would get the largest boost, with an additional $3.4 million. Danbury, New Britain, Hartford, and West Hartford also would see increases between $1 million and $1.8 million. (See breakdown below.)

“I live in a district that is most egregiously underfunded,” said Bye, who comes from West Hartford, which receives millions less than the funding formula calls for. “It’s a problem.”

The proposed budget negotiated by the governor’s staff and legislative leaders would fund a new charter school in Bridgeport and and another in Stamford and provide for increased enrollment in existing charter schools — at a cost of $12.4 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

Last week, more than a dozen Democratic legislators met with their legislative leaders to question whether they could support a budget if charter school funding increased while support for their neighborhood schools remained flat or was cut.

“The way things stand now, I would vote against a budget with those two charter schools if funding for public schools stays flat,” Rep. Edwin Vargas, D-Hartford, a former teacher and union leader, said last week.

While the draft budget documents show funding for the state’s primary education grant would increase, funding for the state’s other education programs remains largely flat or includes minor cuts. However, funding for the Commissioners’ Network — a group of low-achieiving schools — would still decrease by nearly $5 million.