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State Board Tables School Funding Proposal

Plan called for limited 'money follows the child' approach

Grace E. Merritt

February 09, 2011

The State Board of Education Wednesday effectively killed at least for now a controversial plan to reform the way the state pays for students who leave their school district to attend a public magnet school, charter school or other school choice option.

The plan, part of a package of school funding reform proposals, calls for a somewhat limited "money follows the child" approach. The formula would take into account how much money a district would actually save or lose.

About a dozen school leaders and parents, mostly from Stamford and New Britain, attended the meeting to protest the concept, saying it was vague, costly and not thoroughly researched.

They said the new plan would benefit charter schools and magnet schools to the detriment of traditional public schools, which serve 90 percent of the state's students. Poor rural and urban districts, such as New Britain, would be particularly hard hit, said Sharon Beloin-Saavedra, president of the New Britain Board of Education.

"I promise you that when a student chooses to leave a New Britain school for an out-of-district alternative, there is no significant monetary savings to the system," Beloin-Saavedra said. "We still need to fund our principal, our custodian, our building secretary, our school nurses, our social workers and psychologist and we still have to pay utilities and plow the snow."

The board was divided on the issue. Some board members said they wanted more specifics, perhaps outlined on several slides. They also worried about what would happen once the legislature got the proposal.

Board Chairman Allan Taylor, who headed the ad hoc committee that developed the proposal, said it was meant to be a general guideline for reforming the state's patchwork of school funding formulas.

"This is a set of general principles. It's not intended to be a formula," Taylor said.

Taylor added that it would not have taken effect immediately, but would take months to refine and develop into policy.

Eventually, the board tabled the proposal. This means that if it is not resurrected at the next meeting, the proposal will die. It could be re-introduced in the future, but that would fall to a largely new State Board of Education, since the terms of eight of the 11 board members will expire next month.

The decision gratified Dianne Kaplan deVries , the project director for the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding. The coalition, in a 5-year-old lawsuit, has argued that the state's existing education cost-sharing formula puts the burden on local property taxes to pay for school spending, leading to inequity among school districts.

She said the real funding crisis is the financial crisis many school districts face now that federal stimulus money has dried up.

Alex Johnston, who is executive director of ConnCAN, a school reform advocacy group and served on the ad hoc committee, said he was disappointed by the board's inability to take a position on the issue and said it shows a lack of leadership.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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