NEW HAVEN, CT — A new Connecticut Conference of Municipalities report shows the state is more reliant than ever on property taxes to fund public education.
The report found the cost for public education is now greater than $11.5 billion, or $900 million more than in 2013.
Additionally, the report shows that local property taxpayers paid in 2015 almost $6 billion for the cost of public education, $500 million more than in 2013. The report further states that local property taxpayers pay about 60 percent of Connecticut’s nearly $2 billion in special education costs — up from $1.8 billion in 2013.
The report’s narrative states that a 1999 task force found that “the State should budget and appropriate funds biennially to demonstrate progress toward equal (50-50) state and local spending for education.”
For 2015, the report says, the state’s share was 43.9 percent — meaning towns and cities hosting schools picked up 50.6 percent of the costs and the federal government covered 4.9 percent.
“While the goal of at least a 50-50 funding partnership remains elusive, any movement toward that mark is important because new state dollars can reduce over-dependence on regressive property taxes and lessen the inequity inherent in that dependence,” according to the report.
“Quality public education is a cornerstone of a democracy,” Ron Thomas, CCM deputy director,” said. “A quality system not only helps ensure that young people realize their potential, but there are economic implications, also.”
At the same time there’s the reality that municipalities only have one source of raising revenue: the property tax.
The report also notes that the state education funding formula is currently underfunded by more than $600 million. That funding formula was the subject of a recent court order from Judge Thomas Moukawsher, who in September ruled that the state’s method for distributing education aid is unconstitutional. He ordered the General Assembly to come up with a plan for distributing billions in state education aid, a new teacher evaluation system, new high school graduation requirements, and a special education funding formula. He gave lawmakers 180 days to take action.
The judge, in his ruling, said the school systems with the greatest need are not adequately funded.
The lawsuit, which had been winding its way through the courts for more than a decade, was brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF).
Eight days after the Sept. 7 ruling, however, Attorney General George Jepsen appealed it to the Connecticut Supreme Court. Oral arguments are expected in April 2017.
In the meantime, the CCM report says current state policies are falling short of meeting the education finance needs of Connecticut public schools.
“Property taxes cannot continue to shoulder the lion’s share of preK-12 public education costs,” Thomas said. “Earlier this year, former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke of education disparities in the country and singled out over-reliance on the property tax for local public education as a major culprit.”
CCM is recommending the state increase the foundation used to calculate state aid and decrease the special education excess cost grant threshold to 2.5 times the district’s average per-pupil expenditure, down from 4.5. CCM also wants to shift the burden of proof for special education services to parents and students in due process hearings.