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Forum Considers Alternative Funding For Public Education

Speaker Suggests Reforming 'Regressive' Tax Code That Makes Connecticut A Great Place `If You're A Millionaire'

November 29, 2006
By STEVEN GOODE, Courant Staff Writer

WINDSOR -- About 30 residents attended a forum Tuesday to discuss a dilemma that some say has frustrated state legislators for years: sufficiently funding public education and finding better ways to do it than relying heavily on local property taxes.

The forum featured guest speakers with varied opinions and solutions, including Courtney Bourns, president of the Citizens Network of the Capitol Region Inc.; Lyle Wray, executive director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments; Kathy Wilson, school finance specialist for the League of Women Voters of Connecticut; and state Rep. Faith McMahon, D-Bloomfield.

Bourns' organization released a report earlier this year that showed Connecticut as the state most reliant on local property taxes to fund public education. Local property taxes fund 60 percent of educational spending in Connecticut. The 50-state average was 29.8 percent, the group's study showed.

The study recommended identifying a variety of state and local revenues to close the gap and called for the state to pay its fair share, as laid out in Connecticut's Educational Cost Sharing formula.

The formula is adjusted to reflect a town's property wealth, resident income and student characteristics, but Smith said Tuesday that the formula has been flawed since its inception in the early 1990s.

Smith said the formula was supposed to fund 50 percent of spending on public education in the state, but it has never lived up to that number and has not kept pace with annual local increases.

In Windsor, she said, the result was that 85 percent of the cost of local education was paid for by property taxes last year.

"Basically the formula has been thrown out the window," she said.

For Wray, the effects of a fast growing expenditure, such as education, combined with a slow growing revenue, such as property taxes, are twofold.

"Other things don't get done," he said, referring to municipal projects, "and school boards are pulling punches about what they really need."

Wray offered several solutions, such as increasing state funding, adopting an income-adjusted property tax that would help young families and seniors, and reforming Connecticut's "regressive" tax codes.

"It's a great place to live if you're a millionaire," he said.

McMahon, who is about to begin her third term in the legislature, agreed that while the ECS formula doesn't work, residents who make their wishes known to lawmakers are the key to changes in the system.

"It's time for residents to rise up and say we need something more fair," she said.

Several residents also offered possible solutions, such as widening the scope of items eligible for the state's sales tax, amending the state's constitution to force proper educational funding from the legislature, finding efficiencies in educational costs, increasing public awareness and the formation of a large lobbying group to push the issue at the state Capitol.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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