Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy at Smalley Academy in New Britain (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

NEW BRITAIN, CT — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy offered a preview Monday of what municipalities and school districts can expect when it comes education aid.

Currently, the state gives municipalities $5.1 billion a year and of that over 80 percent, or $4.1 billion, is educational aid. Malloy said he doesn’t plan on lowering that amount, but he plans on updating the Education Cost Sharing grant formula using a more accurate measure of poverty by replacing the free and reduced lunch measure with information about which children are receiving Medicaid under Husky A.

The new formula, which Malloy did not release in detail with town-by-town information, would also use current enrollment to ensure a more honest and accurate funding level. Typically student population data lags.

He said he didn’t want to release the information about specific towns because he wanted to start the conversation “by first making my goals and intentions clear. I want people to understand where I’m trying to lead our state.”

Malloy’s formula would also separate regular education funding from special education funding. Once separated the special education grant would be allocated on an adjusted scale based on municipalities’ relative wealth. Malloy is also proposing increasing special education funding by $10 million. The foundation of the regular education funding grant would be reduced to reflect the separation of special education into a new standalone grant.

The governor is also proposing more flexibility for cities and towns by modifying the Minimum Budget Requirement. The governor’s formula would set the calculation at 2017 levels for any town receiving an increase in education aid. It would also exclude the town’s contribution to teacher pensions as part of the calculation and eliminate the calculation completely in 2019 for all but the lowest performing school districts.

Last September a Superior Court judge found that Connecticut had largely abandoned the Education Cost Sharing grant in 2013, but even afterward was not providing an adequate level of education to some of the state’s poorest school districts. The case has been appealed by the state to the Connecticut Supreme Court.

“We should not wait for the courts to solves this issue for us,” Malloy said.

At the same time, Malloy seemed to ignore, according to one municipal lobby, the judge’s conclusion that the “The state’s responsibility for education is direct and non-delegable: it must assume unconditional authority to intervene in troubled school districts.”

Joe DeLong, executive director for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, pointed out that the judge acknowledged the state would rather not be responsible.

However, “any attempt to shift the burden of education funding off of the state and onto our local communities is clearly, as denoted in CCJEF vs. Rell, a violation by the state of its constitutional responsibilities,” DeLong said.

Based on what Malloy said Monday at Smalley Academy in New Britain there will be a shift in how state aid is distributed. The new formula essentially means more of the funding will go to larger, urban communities and less will go to smaller suburban communities with health property tax bases.

“The governor’s proposed changes to ECS and special education funding, coupled with his proposal to require towns to pick up 1/3 of the cost of teacher pension costs, will make it impossible for small towns to fund education without staggering increases in local property taxes,” Betsy Gara, executive director of the Council for Small Towns, said Monday. “This proposal will divert resources away from our smaller communities in a way that spells absolute disaster for our local property taxpayers.”

Gara said small towns are willing to work with Malloy on a solution, but “requiring smaller towns to pick up more of the costs of education, special education, and teacher pensions will impose an unprecedented burden on our small towns and local taxpayers.”

Malloy knows in making this proposal that there’s certain to be opposition that crosses party lines.

However, he said the state should “do the right thing,” because a court has pointed out that it’s not doing the right thing “and not honoring our constitution.” He said he thinks it’s better for the General Assembly to decide how to educate the state’s children, rather than the courts.

Malloy said he didn’t agree with everything the judge said, but he agrees with him that they are failing poor students.

“We are failing children because their parents are poor,” Malloy said. “And it’s not right and by the way it’s not constitutional in Connecticut.”

He said Connecticut doesn’t want a public education system that’s run by the courts.

Salvador Escobales, president of the New Britain Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 871 and who also is a biology teacher at New Britain High School, said he appreciated what he heard from the governor about special education, but without seeing the rest of the budget it’s hard to draw a conclusion.

“We depend very heavily on ECS funding here in New Britain,” Escobales said. “We have a high poverty rate here.”

He said there’s also a large special education population in New Britain, so he’s encouraged that there would be extra funding.

The changes to the ECS formula are just the latest piece of what will be included in Malloy’s two-year budget that he will unveil Wednesday.

At the end of last week, Malloy said he would ask cities and towns to pick up about one-third of the state’s contributions to teacher pensions.