Concerned about what will happen next summer when the flow of federal stimulus money ends, state Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan said Monday that he will appeal to the state's congressional delegation to support a faltering bill asking for $23 billion more for schools.
McQuillan has sent letters to the delegation asking them to support legislation proposed by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, designed to help public schools across the country avert widespread layoffs as states face budget shortfalls.
McQuillan suggested that the Connecticut associations representing school superintendents and boards of education also lobby the delegation to support the bill. The bill has lost momentum since it was proposed in April and faces reticence from a congress reluctant to spend additional stimulus money.
"It appears to be in jeopardy and this is too serious an issue to drop because there really is no Plan B when it comes to fiscal 2010-11," said Thomas Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education. "Mayors, first selectmen, superintendents and school board chairs are very concerned about how they are going."
The state has relied on $260 million in federal stimulus money for each of the last two years to keep funding flowing at the same levels, Murphy said.
Even so, many communities have laid off teachers, some have closed schools and others are relying on parent-teacher associations to furnish basic supplies. Joe Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, estimated that as many as 2,000 school employees will lose their jobs this year statewide.
Educators have said they are worried about next June, when the state budget will "fall off a cliff" when stimulus spending expires. They predict this will force cities and towns to raise property taxes and make widespread layoffs.
"It's going to be brutal," Cirasuolo said. "There are going be a lot of layoffs. It's going to hurt the economy. We could have 20 to 30 percent of public employees lose their jobs."
Joe Courtney, a Democrat from Connecticut's 2nd district who co-sponsored a similar but much broader jobs bill in December, said Monday that he is supportive based on discussions with local school superintendents and school boards.
"Everywhere I go, whether it's large school systems, small school systems, rural schools, suburban schools, across the board, the refrain is that Connecticut's going to go off a cliff in terms of school financing in 2011," Courtney said.
"Even though there are some positive signs in the economy, I don't think anyone expects public finances to pick up slack in time," he said.
Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut's 5th district, has said he couldn't support any federal budget that doesn't cut all non-entitlement spending by at least 1 percent.
"I'm very supportive of federal funding to preserve teacher jobs and support our kids' education. But I'm equally supportive of returning fiscal discipline to Washington, and I'm hoping that Congress can come up with a solution that supports education without additional borrowing."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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