Why, when we don't have enough money to run this state, can't we at least do a better job of funding our public schools more efficiently?
I'm not saying we should spend less than the $7 billion we pour into public education. I'm saying let's make sure the students who need the money are getting it.
In a recent report, the school reform group Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now points out that when students leave a school district to attend a magnet school, the state pays twice — to the tune of more than $186 million a year:
"Districts receive money based on the number of students living within their jurisdiction, even if some of those students choose to attend a charter, magnet, or technical school. These schools are paid for from separate pots of money. Taxpayers are paying to educate the same students twice."
For example, for a student who travels from New Britain to attend a magnet school in Hartford, the state forks over about $21,000 — to cover tuition for the new school, transportation and to "hold harmless" the district that is losing the student.
For this kind of money, you could send a kid to UConn for a year.
Meanwhile, it is nearly impossible to track the "tangle of funding that disguises how money flows," the ConnCAN folks note.
When we are faced with shutting down essential after-school and day-care programs because of budget cuts, this sort of spending is hard to swallow.
"We have been taught to believe that increased spending will lead to better schools, but our finance system is completely disconnected from what will improve student achievement," the ConnCAN report says.
At about $13,000 per student, we spend more than 45 other states. We have some of the highest-achieving schools in the land. We also have the greatest gaps in achievement between the rich and poor and white and black.
The coalition's Mark Porter McGee told me that it hopes our next governor takes a harder look at how we fund schools.
"The system that we have now is unsustainable," McGee said. "It's in everyone's interest to come up with a more rational system."
When the money is no longer there, we may have no choice.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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