When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy releases his new two-year budget Wednesday it will include an additional $152 million in Education Cost Sharing grants for municipalities.
Malloy will propose increasing the grant—which is the largest grant to municipalities—by $50.7 million in the next fiscal year and $101.5 million the year after. A total of 117 cities and towns will see an increase in their allocation. But much of the increased spending will be focused on the state’s 30 underperforming schools identified as Alliance District schools. All other municipalities will have their education funding remain level, he said.
The governor said his budget will be following through with the commitment the state made in last year’s education reform package.
“This money represents a promise to Connecticut students, teachers, and school administrators. We will invest in our schools and we will focus funding where we need to focus it,” he said.
Dianne Kaplan deVries, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, called the increase in funding a “big step forward” considering the state’s fiscal situation.
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.
However, Kaplan deVries said the additional funding “barely scratches the surface of what’s required for meeting the state’s constitutional obligation to adequately and equitably fund the public schools.”
“For most school districts, their share of $150 million over two years probably won’t even cover the local cost of the education reform legislation that was enacted last year,” she said.
Some town officials have been outspoken about the additional financial burden municipalities have incurred through the new teacher evaluation requirement. Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said the additional funding announced Tuesday could be used to help pay for those costs.
The new funding is not the first spending commitment Malloy has made in recent weeks even as the state is expected to have a built-in $2.2 billion budget deficit over the next two years. With a deficit looming, cities and towns, have been bracing for possible municipal aid reductions.
Malloy told reporters it wouldn’t be wise to assume he would be cutting from other forms of town aid to pay for the increase in education funding, given his prior tenure as mayor of Stamford.
“I would caution you to be careful about writing that, knowing what my prior profession was for 14 years,” he said.
Jim Finley, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said town leaders were cautiously optimistic given Malloy’s comments early on in his term, when he said he would never forget where he came from as a former mayor. He said the additional ECS funding was welcome but it remained to be seen what the rest of the governor’s proposals would mean for municipal governments.
Malloy said the budget represented his priorities, despite the state’s fiscal troubles.
“You’re going to hear that word quite a bit tomorrow. And it’s time that Connecticut set its priorities and education, workforce development, and job attraction have to be its top priorities,” he said.
In that vein, Malloy announced a collaborative effort to representatives of the state’s two teachers unions and Pryor to help recruit talented teachers to Connecticut schools and encourage opportunities for advancement. He said he expects that $2 to $3 million will be devoted to fund the efforts.
“The work our teachers do is critical to the success of the hundreds of thousands of students who they will touch the lives of in their careers,” he said. “We believe these additional dollars are necessary to continue our work.”
Pryor said his department has already been collaborating with the two teachers unions, Connecticut Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut. He said in the past few days they have made progress at coming to a consensus regarding how teacher evaluations will be rolled out over the next year.
He said the partnership will “recruits, retains, supports, and rewards outstanding teachers and that makes the teaching profession in Connecticut the most attractive of any state.”
AFT Connecticut President Melodie Peters said the partnership started last year during the sometimes contentious education reform negotiations.
“We worked our way through sometimes with bruises, sometimes with big smiles. But here we are today talking about a second step, or second phase to education and supporting education,” she said.