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Cutbacks Would Hurt Schools

February 8, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer

As Connecticut's lowest-performing schools struggle to meet the increasingly tough standards of President Bush's school reform act, they probably will have to do it with less help from the federal government.

Educators are still analyzing the latest figures, but Connecticut stands to lose ground in several federal programs, including vocational education and college readiness programs aimed at low-income students.

The state's allotment from Title I, a key federal grant aimed at helping disadvantaged children, grew sharply between 2001 and 2004, largely to support the No Child Left Behind Act, but it has started to decline since then. It is about $107.5 million this year but is projected to drop to $100 million in 2006-07 and to $98 million the following year, according to estimates from the president's proposed budget. The allotment is being cut because the state's child poverty rate has not grown as fast as that of most other states.

The expected reduction comes as more of the state's public schools are required to make improvements under the No Child Left Behind Act, the centerpiece of Bush's school reform agenda.

"There's no question any reduction will have an effect on us," said Robert Henry, superintendent of schools in Hartford, where about $20 million in Title I funding accounts for nearly 10 percent of the city's education budget.

Three of the city's elementary schools face wholesale restructuring under No Child Left Behind, and 22 others are required to undergo earlier stages of improvement under the federal law.

A reduction in Title I also could affect summer school classes, Henry said. "Full-day kindergarten programs - we'd have to rethink those as well," he said.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings praised the president's budget proposal, including support for improving mathematics instruction nationwide. "This budget request soundly targets resources where they are needed most and working best," she said in a press release.

Nationwide, the president's budget plan would increase spending for No Child Left Behind efforts by 4.6 percent in 2007-08, but Connecticut would get an increase of about one-half of 1 percent. Most of Connecticut's increase would be due to a new $8.6 million proposed allocation aimed at high school reform. Across the nation, the federal budget proposal calls for nearly $1.5 billion to reduce the number of dropouts, increase the rigor of the high school curriculum and require additional testing in reading and mathematics.

After several years of steady increases, Connecticut's allocation for special education, the state's largest federal education grant, would remain roughly the same in 2006-07 at $122.6 million and would increase by less than 1 percent the following year - not enough to keep pace with rising costs, educators and municipal officials say.

"Towns get hammered with exorbitant increases in special education costs year to year," said Kevin Maloney, spokesman for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. "Another significant problem is the continued lack of full funding needed for the No Child Left Behind Act. More and more of the burden is being thrust on property tax payers and towns."

The president's proposed budget also calls for the elimination of more than 40 education programs that federal officials have deemed ineffective.

One of the programs targeted for elimination is a vocational education grant providing career-related education in public high schools. Connecticut's grant is about $10 million.

"This would be a major hit," said Paul F. Flinter, chief of the state's Bureau of Early Childhood, Career and Adult Education. "We use that to support agricultural education, business finance, technology education, family consumer science, marketing education, medical career education."

Flinter said it is not immediately clear whether some of the additional money for high school reform would replace some of those programs.

The budget proposal also would eliminate support for programs such as Upward Bound, designed to encourage middle school and high school students from low-income families to prepare for college.

In Connecticut, Upward Bound operates programs at Wesleyan University, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield University, the University of Connecticut and Western Connecticut State University.

Supporters have rallied to save Upward Bound from budget cuts in the past and are planning to do so again, said Donna Thompson, director of Wesleyan's program.

Jeremy Clark, a 17-year-old senior at Middletown High School, has been part of the program at Wesleyan for several years and has applied to schools such as Cornell University, UConn and Colorado State University.

"There are a lot of kids who wouldn't even have considered going to college" without Upward Bound, he said. "I never considered it ... but they showed me if I got an education first, I could do a lot with my life."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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