By Robert A. Frahm, Courant Staff
December 1, 2004
A coalition of municipal officials and educators called
for a radical revision of Connecticut's 15-year-old school funding
formula Tuesday, contending it is shortchanging the state's public
schools by millions of dollars.
The new coalition contends that state support for public schools
has been inadequate, causing local property taxes to soar and
forcing towns to cut back on everything from police services
to street repairs. To bolster its case, the group has commissioned
a study by a national school finance consulting firm to gauge
the cost of providing adequate education in the state. The study
is expected to be ready in the spring.
"The current system of funding education in Connecticut is
broken,'' Hamden Mayor Carl Amento, president of the newly formed
Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, said.
Amento was among about 25 mayors, educators and local leaders
attending a press conference in Hartford urging state legislators
to revamp the Education Cost Sharing grant, the state's major
source of financial aid to towns and cities.
The plea for more money for public schools is an annual occurrence
before the state legislature, but the decision to commission
a study of the adequacy of school funding is a sign the group
eventually could take its case to court.
"Currently about 25 states have lawsuits on school funding.
They all started the same way,'' said Mike Griffith, a policy
analyst with the Education Commission of the States, a Colorado-based
agency that monitors state education issues.
Connecticut's school funding formula underwent a major change
after the state Supreme Court in 1977 ordered the state, in the
Horton vs. Meskill case, to close a large funding gap between
the state's wealthiest and poorest communities.
While many early school finance lawsuits focused on equity among
school districts, much of the litigation now revolves around
whether schools have adequate funding to meet demands such as
special education requirements or new state and federal testing
standards, experts say.
"It's exactly what you're seeing in Connecticut,'' Griffith
said. "The argument is, you're not giving us the resources to
do what you're telling us to do.''
Fifteen years ago, the state paid nearly 46 percent of the cost
of running public schools, but that statewide figure had dropped
to about 39 percent by 2002-03.
State Rep. William R. Dyson, D-New Haven, longtime co-chairman
of the legislature's appropriations committee, said he understands
why local officials are concerned.
"The largest part of any of their budgets is education,'' Dyson
said. "If that's their first priority, then, yes, all other
things get squeezed. The question becomes: Where do you think
we're going to get the money from?''
The legislature revised the school aid formula with the introduction
of the Education Cost Sharing grant in 1989, but lawmakers have
imposed limits on the grant under the strain of tight state budgets.
In towns where the legislature has imposed caps on the school
grant, "you could make a good argument they're not getting as
much as they should,'' but the legislature is phasing out those
limits, said state Sen. Thomas P. Gaffey, D-Meriden, co-chairman
of the legislature's education committee.
This year, the state will spend nearly $1.6 billion in the Education
Cost Sharing grant. That number is expected to increase significantly
next year, Gaffey said. "I really do believe by the end of this
[legislative] session, you'll see some changes [in the formula]
that will bring about more equity.''
In 1998, a dozen towns sued the state, saying the school aid
formula did not meet the needs of towns with growing numbers
of poor children and low-performing students, but that case,
Johnson vs. Rowland, was withdrawn last year because of mounting
The new coalition includes mayors and other officials from 22
towns and various nonprofit groups representing school boards,
teachers and school administrators.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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