Connecticut’s education system is facing a crisis, and it seems to be growing every day. Over the holidays, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced his proposal to end education aid to certain towns. Last week, he told some mayors and town managers that they are in “substantially better shape” than the state and advocated for a “fairer” distribution of state education funds.
While the governor’s office points out that the cuts he proposes are being made to the wealthiest towns, it matters to everyone.
Not long before this announcement, the State Department of Education sent a memo to superintendents to notify them that the Department of Developmental Services may cease funding residential placements for children with disabilities. This decision will shift the burden of funding such services to schools.
Schools are legally obligated to provide residential placement if it is necessary to ensure a free appropriate public education. Add to that the fact that the state does not fully fund the excess cost grant, and you’ve got a perfect storm.
Under the excess cost grant, local school districts are reimbursed for the reasonable costs of special education services that exceed 4.5 times the average per pupil spending. It is intended to ensure that all children receive an education while protecting local budgets.
Since the grant isn’t properly funded, schools are getting about 70 percent of what they should, and this percentage is likely to shrink due to budget cuts.
In his opinion in Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, Inc., et al v. Rell, Judge Thomas Moukawsher found the state is failing to meet its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate public school education. There are many reasons to take issue with his opinion, including his illegal and unconscionable suggestion that children with multiple disabilities not be given an education, and the case is on appeal.
The reality, though, is that there are real issues with how the state is funding education. The governor, state agencies, and the legislature aren’t addressing the problem. Instead, the state just keeps searching for ways to cut the state budget and shift obligations to local municipalities. That’s not good for kids, and it’s not good for communities.
The answer is not to reduce educational services. We shouldn’t make the mistake of pitting one group of children against others, as Judge Moukawsher does, creating a Connecticut Hunger Games of sorts.
We should look at comprehensive reforms to reduce reliance on local property taxes for funding, provide proper funding at the state level, and ensure that ALL children receive the education to which they are legally entitled.
Christina Ghio is a special education attorney from Cheshire.