(Updated 9:05 p.m.) Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told the mayors of Connecticut’s three largest cities that he found enough money in his budget to hold them harmless for the loss of federal stimulus funds, which helped prop up the state’s share of the Education Cost Sharing grant last year.

Malloy promised make sure the state funded its share of ECS funding on the campaign trail last year, but backed off that stance shortly after taking office last month. .

As he grapples with a $3.67 billion budget deficit, Malloy said definitively Wednesday that he found the $540 million the state needs in order to hold municipalities harmless for the anticipated 14 percent reduction in ECS funding over the next two years.

“I think it is worth saying something obvious…it’s good to have people mean what they say,” New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said.

The move immediately reduces New Haven’s deficit by $11 million, lowering it from $42 million to $31 million.

“Supporting ECS will allow us to drive down the achievement gap in this state, to reduce the dropout rate and to see that our kids arrive at college prepared to compete,” DeStefano said. “It’s a strategic investment.”

Last year the state covered about 42 percent of school funding while local districts paid more than 52 percent. The states ability to cover 42 percent of school costs was due in part to the approximately $540 million in federal stimulus funds it received for the past two years. That money has since dried up.

“I think communities by and large will make out very well in this budget,” Malloy said. However, he wasn’t willing to talk or hint any further about how other municipal grants programs will fair in the budget he releases next week.

“This is not a budget address at this time,” Malloy said. “But clearly the largest support that state government lends to local government is ECS.”

“I’d made a hard and fast decision recently on ECS I decided this was the moment to tell them,” Malloy said referring to the three mayors.

The ECS funding formula, which is being challenged in court and has been a point of contention over the years, won’t be part of Malloy’s budget address next week. Earlier in the day the State Board of Education tabled a report on the subject which gave rise to a lively discussion between public school and charter school advocates.

“Do I believe the ECS formula needs to be addressed? Do I believe we need to take a different approach to education? The answer is yes,” Malloy said.

However, he hasn’t had enough time to deal with all of that in his budget. By next month the terms of 8 of the 11 State Board of Education members will be up and Malloy will need to reappoint or replace them. There’s also the question about whom the board will then appoint to lead the Education Department. The previous commissioner resigned last month citing the stresses of the job.

Alex Johnston, CEO of Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), said Malloy really needs to show leadership in this area and set out a vision because the interests of the children in this state is what‘s at stake.

“Governor Malloy has a clear opportunity – this year – to fundamentally improve the way we educate our kids,” Johnston said. “Merely maintaining current school funding levels when we have such a broken system does not go far enough.”

Dianne Kaplan deVries, director of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding—the organization which brought a lawsuit against the state for inadequately funding public education—said for the past 20 years the legislature has been tinkering with the ECS formula and it hasn’t worked. She said everyone recognizes the funding stream is completely broken and the state needs to hire some outside experts to create a formula that’s fully funded and fully implemented.

“The solution is not going to be homegrown,” deVries said late Wednesday evening.

Earlier in the day deVries was at the state Board of Education meeting urging them to refocus their efforts on the funding cliff created by the drop off in federal stimulus funds.

Securing level funding for the ECS, Special Education Excess Cost, and Priority District grants, “is what ought to be at the top of the State Board of Education’s agenda,” she told the board, which was mulling a report that suggested exploring ways to reallocate some money to follow students who transfer from public to charter schools. The report was tabled.