Forty-five municipalities stand to gain more money from the state’s primary education grant next year if provisions of the governor’s proposed budget are adopted by the General Assembly – however, several smaller grants are slated to be eliminated or reduced.
Impoverished communities stand to gain the most while wealthier towns, generally speaking, would lose the most through a redistribution of the state’s primary funding source to local school districts, the Education Cost Sharing ESC) grant.
The ECS grant accounts for two-thirds of all state aid municipalities receive each year.
Waterbury would reap the largest dollar amount,with a $6.4 million, or 5 percent, boost. Colchester stands to lose the most, with a $1.1 million, or 8.5 percent cut.
Overall, state ECS aid would increase by $17.6 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1 – which is a nearly 1 percent increase.
However, that increase is somewhat offset by a series of cuts to other education programs that assist local districts; including eliminating funding for a program that helps New Haven students with homework after school and a program that helps high school students prepare for college placement exams.
Cuts to regional magnet schools and a program where the state pays for city youth to attend suburban schools – the state’s primary approach to comply with the Supreme Court’s order to desegregate Hartford schools – also could impact local school districts. Numerous local school districts operate magnet schools and rely on grants from the Open Choice program.
Lamont’s budget would cut magnet school funding by $28 million, a 9 percent decrease, and Open Choice by $12 million, a 31 percent decrease. However, a new line item to cover transportation costs offsets some of these cuts, but not all, as the state aims to reduce travel costs through new bus routes.
“Under our budget proposal, we are maintaining our commitment to education,” said Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, said during his budget address before the General Assembly.
The changes the governor seeks to make to the ECS grant are largely based on a bi-partisan formula agreed upon in 2017, with some tweaks to scale back the nearly $40 million the previous legislature promised to increase in aid in 2020.
His tweaks include reducing aid to some municipalities slightly more aggressively and attempting to better count how many students are in poverty, thus identify the districts that should get more education aid to accommodate their greater needs.
The governor’s plan would change the way the state counts low-income students. Instead of using the number of students in the free- or reduced-price meals program, the number enrolled in Medicaid, food stamps or cash welfare program would become the measure of student poverty. Doing so has prompted fears that it would lead to a reduced number of students deemed low-income, because to qualify for free or reduced-priced school meals a family can earn no more than 185 percent of the federal poverty level compared to 201 percent for Medicaid.
Measuring poverty has become a hot issue. As schools move to universal feeding programs, free-lunch counts have become nearly irrelevant.
The legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis estimates shifting to this new approach to counting how many students are from low-income homes would reduce the number of students being deemed low income – and thus their district getting more aid for them – by 26,053 students next school year.
A review by the Connecticut School Finance Project, however, has the number essentially flat statewide, but change district-by-district varies. For example, in Hartford, 1,682 fewer students would be deemed poor while Bristol would have 294 students considered poor.
Moving to this new approach also comes with problems because counting children who are from families who are undocumented immigrants and don’t qualify for the public programs, or are from families who work part-time but receive health care can be difficult. Read about that here.
Other municipal aid
The remaining grants to municipalities are flat funded.
The governor is also proposing that towns pick up a portion of the cost of providing current public school teachers with pensions when they retire. The state currently picks up that entire bill.
It would cost $24 million for municipalities in the first year, and $49 million the following year.
Correction: The town-by-town figures first provided by the governor’s budget office to the media for the teacher retirement charges to municipalities were incorrect. The graphic has been updated in this story to reflect accurately what Lamont is proposing