Hugh McQuaid file photo
Nervous about whether Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would maintain his commitment to education reform prior to his budget address, an education advocacy organization hired Global Strategy Group to survey the public about the popularity of the reforms passed last year.

The poll, commissioned by the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, found nearly three-fourths or 73 percent of the 601 voters surveyed support the education reforms enacted last year.

The survey was conducted between Jan. 23-Jan. 27 and found that jobs and the state budget still top voters’ priority lists, but 86 percent say improving the quality of public education is a high priority, including 49 percent who say it is a top priority that needs to be addressed by the governor and the state legislature.

While 41 percent of voters recognize the need to tackle Connecticut’s budget issues, a majority of voters or 52 percent believe that even in these difficult times, the state must protect the progress made with last year’s landmark education reforms.

“Now, as the General Assembly prepares to make tough decisions regarding the state budget, the message is clear: we cannot afford to dial back our efforts aimed at ensuring a high-quality public education for every child. Our students are counting on us,” said Jennifer Alexander, acting CEO for ConnCAN.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposes increasing the Education Cost Sharing 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, but the money for the boost in education funding will come from the discontinuation of a municipal grant program. The state-owned Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes or PILOT program will be folded into the Education Cost Sharing formula.

The move could pit local town councils against local school boards.

Jim Finley, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said they appreciate the sentiment that Malloy’s goal was to hold cities and towns harmless, but the problem is that he moved some of the traditional funding programs into different buckets.

“The funding is still there and towns are going to be held harmless, but through the ECS grant,” Finley said last week. “One of the reasons they did it was to move that funding into the general fund and by putting it into ECS it’s exempt from the spending cap.”

The change sets up a battle at the local level between local chief executives and school boards. He said it also places pressure on the property tax because while the state programs pay for things like roads and bridges, they don’t pay for town personnel like police and firefighters.