In its second report of the campaign season, Connecticut’s largest municipal lobby released a document focused on major issues facing pre-K through 12th-grade public school education funding.
Kevin Maloney, a spokesman for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said Monday that the state is currently underfunding the Education Cost Sharing formula by more than $600 million and it has failed to address the skyrocketing cost of special education, which now accounts for $1.8 billion of the $10 billion in local public education funds.
“Right now, the towns and cities pay the majority of the costs — slightly more than 50 percent — while the state pays about 42 percent,” Maloney said.
But it’s unclear whether the legislature will tackle the education cost sharing formula this year or wait to hear what the court decides.
The trial for the landmark education funding lawsuit filed by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding was supposed to start Sept. 9, but it was moved to Jan. 6, 2015, after the November election.
Maloney said the report issued Monday addresses a lot of the detail that “underpins this court case.”
The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding sued the state in 2005, claiming it was not adequately funding pre-K through 12th-grade public school education. Jim Finley, the former executive director of CCM, is now a lobbyist for the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding.
“Certainly, there’s got to be some progress made or that court case is going to continue to dog us moving forward. It’s worthwhile for the Connecticut economy and for Connecticut local governments to have the best possible local public education system,” Maloney said, adding that the numbers in the latest report, which he encourages candidates running for public office to use to discuss the issue, were checked against the numbers used by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding in their lawsuit against the state.
“We worked closely with CCJEF,” Maloney said. “We shared the report with them to make sure our facts are in line with theirs.”
He said they feel “like we have dual voices advancing the same issue.”
And while there’s widespread agreement the education funding formula is broken, there’s no agreement yet about how to fix it.
In 2011, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now helped draft a 116-page bill that would have changed the Education Cost Sharing formula to make ensure that public school funding followed the child to their school of choice, instead of staying with the home district. The bill also took into account various poverty measures. But the Education Committee declined to hold a public hearing on the bill.
Instead, Malloy created a task force to look at the state’s funding formula for education. They issued a report in January 2012.
Ben Barnes, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget director who co-chaired that task force, said the recommendations were similar to what the governor included in his budget that year. Barnes said he hasn’t begun creating the budget for the next biennium, but added that the administration has increased education funding every year.
“I think the track record speaks for itself,” Barnes said.
Jennifer Alexander, president and CEO of ConnCAN, said there’s universal agreement that the funding formula is broken, but there have been few changes over the years.
“We’re still left with a formula that’s not being faithfully followed and doesn’t direct funds where kids need them,” Alexander said Monday.
She speculated that even if a judge decides more money is needed, it will likely be left up to the state legislature to distribute those funds in a way that makes sense.
“There’s a growing sense that the formula as its exists is not working,” Alexander said.