HARTFORD, CT – A group of educators Wednesday called for a new long-term plan for the state to address its constitutional obligation to fund Connecticut’s public schools, stating the governor and the legislature should hold off on radical funding changes until a study is completed.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who proposed largely pushing more state funding to schools in poorer urban communities, immediately blasted the proposal.
“I don’t know what the hell they’re thinking about,” Malloy said. “The idea that we would wait makes no sense at all. It’s a stupid idea.”
Malloy’s reaction to the educators plan came at his own press conference shortly after the plan to do the long-term study was unveiled.
“We are concerned that decisions about education funding will be made hastily behind closed doors,” Connecticut Education President Sheila Cohen said at a press conference at the state Capitol.
Funding for the state’s public schools, Cohen said, needs to be in a “deliberate and transparent” manner.
Joe Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said he has been an educator for more than a half-century in Connecticut and he’s still waiting to see a better, more transparent system.
“It hasn’t happened,” Cirasuolo said, who added, “We really need a new funding system.”
The group of educators, the Connecticut Coalition for Public Education (CCPE) called on Malloy and state legislators to create what they called the Connecticut Achievement and Resource Equity in Schools (CARES) Commission.
“Connecticut must use this commission to strengthen our funding system so that it is stable, transparent and sustainable,” Connecticut PTA President Kathy Kennedy said. “The legislature must act during special session to create this commission and ensure success for our students today, tomorrow, and in the future.”
The General Assembly ended its session on June 7 without reaching a budget agreement. A special session has been called, for June 29, to try and reach a deal agreeable to the governor, Democrats and Republicans.
The educators’ group said the commission would not make recommendations on school funding until 2019, recognizing that it would take that long to do the type of thorough analysis they are calling on the governor and legislators to do.
“The creation of the CARES Commission would allow the state to focus on the needs of our students, to fully fund public education, providing all children with the funding and resources they need to succeed,” Karissa Niehoff, CCPE chairperson and executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools said.
The educators said members of the commission would include experts in the fields of education, taxation, and funding equity and would recommend implementation of a funding formula that reflects the true cost of educating students in their districts.
“We must act responsibly by listening to real experts who understand the challenges and issues facing our state,” Cirasuolo said. “Recommendations are needed that best serve the needs of our students, today, and for decades to come.”
CCPE is made of Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, the Connecticut Association of Schools, the Connecticut Education Association, the Connecticut Federation of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers-Connecticut, and the Connecticut Parent Teacher Association.
Malloy jolted municipal and school officials early in the most recently ended legislative session when he proposed a budget that gave 31 towns in the state more state aid than they currently receive, mostly the big cities, but took away municipal aid from 138 towns.
Additionally, Malloy shifted about $407 million in teacher retirement costs to municipalities in the first year of the budget. He capped his proposal at $400 million in the second year of the budget.
Currently the state is responsible for funding 100 percent of the Connecticut State Teachers’ Retirement System — the fund responsible for maintaining retirement benefits for over 36,000 retired and 50,000 active teachers, school administrators, and their beneficiaries.
Malloy said this year, the state is expected to pay $1.2 billion toward teachers’ pensions — representing over one-third of the state’s total educational aid and close to one-quarter of total municipal aid.
Meg Green, a spokesperson for the governor, elaborated on his school budget plans.
“We agree with the countless residents we’ve heard from in Connecticut communities – the time for bold action to address the issue of fair funding in our education system is now,” Green said.
“For decades, we have not properly supported pockets of poverty in our cities and small towns,” Green added. We must do better to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of education funding and we believe the governor’s proposed formula accomplishes that goal.”
Malloy’s proposals weren’t approved by the legislature, but the state’s multi-billion dollar budget deficit has only worsened since he unveiled his plan.
And, the governor isn’t backing down.
Malloy said a study simply isn’t necessary.
He said the state has municipalities with grand list per capitas as low as $45,000 and as high as $777,000.
“That’s your study,” Malloy said, stating he didn’t want to “take another two years to do a study to placate someone who doesn’t want to take the big steps.”