A bill that addresses rising property taxes by giving municipalities more freedom in crafting their education budgets is on its way to the Senate after unanimous approval from the House of Representatives last week.
Championed by Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, the bill — H.B. 7019, An Act Concerning The Minimum Budget Requirement — relaxes minimum spending requirements that prevent cities and towns from spending less on education than they did the previous year. The bill takes decreased enrollment and increased efficiencies into account, giving qualifying schools more room to streamline their budgets.
The bill also allows municipalities to seek approval from the state Board of Education to reduce their budgets further.
Data from the state Department of Education shows many towns are spending more despite serving fewer students. In Sharkey’s district, enrollment decreased 3.28 percent in 2014 while expenditures rose 6 percent.
“School districts are facing declining enrollments throughout the state, but are not currently allowed to reflect that reality in their education budgets,” Sharkey said in a press release. “This is a common sense change that will benefit taxpayers and help boards of education do their jobs better.”
The state’s lowest performing schools would still be required to spend as much as they did the year prior. On the other end of the spectrum, the bill would essentially repeal the minimum budget requirement for the top 10 percent of the state’s highest performing schools.
Under the current regulations, the state can assess a penalty in its funding for districts that spend less than their previous year’s education budget by more than half of 1 percent. This year’s legislation would allow schools with declining enrollment to decrease spending by 1.5 or 3 percent, based on the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.
Penalties for exceeding the statutory requirements are levied at a 2-to-1 ratio. In the current framework, a town that cuts its budget by $50,000 and breaks the one-half of 1 percent threshold could see $100,000 less in its education cost-sharing grant from the state.