Connecticut’s largest municipal lobby is calling upon state government to increase education funding to cities and towns despite the state’s lagging revenue estimates.
The lack of state education funding has “wreaked havoc at the local level with regard to local budgets,” James Finley, executive director and CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said Tuesday during a Capitol press conference.
The states education grants to municipalities are underfunded by more than $763 million, according to Finley. That means property taxpayers are spending more than 62 cents per $1 on funding local education.
In an effort to address the funding inequities, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy created the ECS Task Force last year to come up with recommendations on how to change the formula.
The 12-member panel, which was supposed to issue a final set of recommendations in October, is expected to make its final recommendations Nov. 27.
Ben Barnes, the governor’s budget director and co-chair of the ECS (education cost-sharing) Task Force, said he doesn’t know what the panel will ultimately decide since it’s a deliberative process.
“I think we’ll come out with real recommendations soon,” Barnes said.
Asked if he thinks the formula is underfunded to the tune of $763 million, Barnes side-stepped the question saying he thinks the amount the legislature appropriates every year is enough.
There is “no legal obligation for the state to fund it at any level or another,” Barnes said before attending the task force meeting.
However, Dianne Kaplan deVries, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, disagrees.
The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding sued the state in 2005, alleging that under the state’s Constitution students are entitled to a public education that works, and one that assures them, at minimum, an adequate education. The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed in a 4-3 decision in 2010 and sent the case back to the trial court.
The trial is expected to begin in July 2014.
For the past 40 years, the courts have told state government it has underfunded education, Finley said, referring back to the Horton v. Meskill decision, which found as unconstitutional the state’s over reliance on the property tax to fund public education.
Finley said that if the state allows the CCJEF v. Rell case to get to trial, then he’s confident CCJEF will win.
But there are things the state can do on it’s own without the court to correct the problem.
Finley called on the task force to fully fund the formula and phase in the spending increases over a period of three to five years. He said the total ECS grant should account for about $4 billion in annual state spending, but it’s funded at about $2 billion a year.
“We’d like to see the ECS Task Force recommend a reformed ECS formula and make a commitment over time to fully fund it,” Finley said.
The first step is to make sure the task force makes the recommendations it knows it should make “regardless of what the fiscal challenges are in the state,” Finley said.
State revenue is lagging by $128 million and an increase in the Medicaid population means the state could be facing a deficit this year of more than $300 million.
Finley said his gut tells him that the 12-member task force may be too overwhelmed with the state’s current fiscal challenges to make an adequate recommendation.
Barnes disagreed. He said there’s nothing the task force knows about the budget that hasn’t already been reported. He added that none of the budget information will impact the final decision it makes.
On Tuesday, the task force discussed three possible scenarios for changing the formula Tuesday, including one that would increase funding by $400 million and phase it in over a period of four years. No final recommendation was made.