They appreciate that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy maintained his promise to fund the Education Cost Sharing grant at the same or higher levels as last year, but two groups expressed concerns about the viability of the formula.
The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents and the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education took advantage of all day public hearings on education to voice their concerns about funding—an issue that will largely be ignored for another year.
For years, lawmakers and municipal officials have complained about the ECS formula, which is underfunded to the tune of $800 million, according to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.
Malloy has appointed a task force to look specifically at the funding formula, but its final report isn’t due until October. In the meantime, Malloy proposed an additional $50 million in ECS funding this year targeted specifically at low performing school districts. Under Malloy’s plan 130 municipalities would see their ECS grants increase, while 39 towns will see theirs remain the same and no municipality will see their funding decrease.
“I’m hearing from superintendents across the state that they’re being told by their municipal officials that there will be no increase in their education budgets next year,” Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said at a Tuesday morning press conference.
Despite the $50 million increase in funding, it’s possible many of the school districts won’t see it because it goes through the Education Cost Sharing formula. Cirasuolo suggested making it a categorical grant which has to go to the districts. He said schools have been through three years of level funding from the state, at the same time the cost of operating a school district has gone up 2 to 3 percent.
He said implementing the new teacher and principal evaluation program and the implementation of common core curriculum standards will increase the costs to all school districts.
There have been no guarantees of level funding after fiscal year 2013. Malloy’s budget, which increases spending about $329 million next fiscal year, falls into a $423.9 million deficit in fiscal year 2014.
“The past three years have effectively yielded a net decrease in spending on educational programs,” Lydia Tedone, president of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said. “We see this increasing class sizes, cuts in teachers, cuts in programs such as arts, sports, and other non-core areas.”
Tedone said the group will continue to work with the Education Cost Sharing task force to come up with a solution for next year.
Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said he’s concerned about what will happen in the future.
Changes to teacher evaluation and tenure, which will be talked about by more than 200 public speakers Tuesday, are all part of a larger system that school boards will have to figure out how to pay for, Rader said.
It’s too early in the process to say how much the new evaluation system will costs districts.
Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said she shares the group’s concern that not every dollar is getting to the classroom where the achievement gap will be eliminated.
Part of the problem is the minimum budget requirement, which prohibits municipalities from reducing their education budget below what they received the previous year. However, when no new money flows to ECS, the minimum budget requirement doesn’t work that way, Rich Carmelich, finance director of the Plainville Board of Education, said.
He said under the current minimum budget requirement towns have the ability to reduce education budgets by about $3,000 per student, or up to half a percentage point of the overall budget.
In Plainville, under the governor’s budget proposal its schools are supposed to receive an additional $180,000 in ECS funding, but the town could vote not to pass along that increase, and could vote to decrease the budget by up to $150,000, he said.
“We’d like to see a change to the MBR because there’s no guarantee that any additional money will actually get to education,” Carmelich said.
Meanwhile, Cirasuolo said he’s not happy with Malloy’s plan to have school districts pay $1,000 for every child it sends to the state’s 17 charter schools. The school districts still receive the money for the student, so when the students leaves to attend a charter school, “all you really save is the money you spend on books and supplies,” Cirasuolo said. “It’s variously estimated at $300.”
Municipalities will be sending about $6.4 million to the 17 charter schools.
Patrick Riccards, CEO of Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, obviously doesn’t believe sending $1,000 per student to charter schools will adversely impact school districts. These are all public schools and “we need to treat all public schools fairly,” he said.
“If you’re a parent and you send your child to a local charter school, you should expect that some of your local taxpayer dollars are going to fund your child’s education,” Riccards said.
But Riccards agrees with the group that throwing more money into the Education Cost Sharing formula is not going to solve the problem.