February 22, 2007
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
Gov. M. Jodi Rell's historic proposal to bolster state spending on education by more than $1 billion a year is a good start - but not good enough, a coalition of municipal and education officials said Wednesday.
The coalition, which is suing Connecticut over what it says is a broken and unfair school finance formula, issued a set of options that would add about $2.6 billion annually for education by substantially increasing the state income and sales taxes.
The suggestions made by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding also are designed to ease the burden on local property taxes - a major source of school funding that the coalition says leads to glaring inequities among school districts.
"The [school finance] formula is old, the formula is broken," former Manchester Mayor Stephen T. Cassano, the coalition's executive director, said during a press conference in Hartford.
Coalition officials hope their ideas will influence the state legislature to more than double the size of Rell's proposed education budget increases, but at least one key state legislator who has praised the governor's plan was skeptical.
"To go and ask for a billion dollars more after we have had the most historic proposal in education history ... really smacks of not living in reality," said state Sen. Thomas P. Gaffey, D-Meriden, co-chairman of the legislature's Education Committee.
"We're going to be lucky to get [the governor's plan] through as it is proposed," he said. "Everyone ought to be grateful."
Earlier this month, Rell stunned many educators and politicians with an ambitious plan to provide millions of dollars more for towns and cities and additional aid for everything from preschool classes to college scholarships.
Her proposal includes a phased-in increase over five years of nearly 70 percent in the state's main education grant to cities and towns - from $1.6 billion annually to $2.7 billion.
The coalition, however, recommends raising that grant to more than $4 billion a year. Two years ago, the coalition filed a lawsuit challenging the state's education funding formula, contending there are vast disparities in opportunities and levels of achievement among Connecticut's public schools.
The high price tag projected in the coalition report "is the cost of years of failure in Connecticut's education system," said economics Professor Fred V. Carstensen, director of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis at the University of Connecticut.
Carstensen helped the coalition prepare several options for raising more tax revenue, including the creation of new income tax brackets imposing higher rates on higher incomes. The options also included the elimination of most or all exemptions from the state's sales tax.
The state currently exempts many items, including food and some clothing, from its sales tax.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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