March 8, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
Hartford parents, principals and politicians
jostled in a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday as dozens waited their
turn to speak to the legislature's education committee, which was
conducting a hearing on bills to help equalize state funding for
education around the state.
The public hearing convened at night
in an auditorium at The Learning Corridor to be more accessible
to residents. The committee is gathering comments on two bills.
One bill would eliminate the cap on
what municipalities could receive under the state education cost-sharing
formula and link future annual increases in the formula to the consumer
price index - a government barometer of inflation.
The other bill would attempt to equalize
the amount that each town spends on education by lowering state
grants to towns that spend more per pupil than the state average
and have a local tax rate for school funding that is less than half
of the state average. Such towns generally have higher property
values and thus can have lower tax rates. The bill establishes a
formula to determine how much to reduce state grants to the wealthy
towns. The money that is diverted from wealthy towns would be distributed
among poor towns.
Rather than address the complicated
formulas proposed in the bills, many speakers Tuesday talked about
Hartford's tremendous challenges in educating thousands of children
who don't speak English at home, and thousands more who lag far
behind their grade levels in school.
Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, said
the legislature does not look kindly on Hartford and he encouraged
officials to "make your case." To do that, he said, the
city must discuss its struggles even if it seems counterintuitive
to "say, `Look how we're not able to do the job.'"
"But the reality is that the school
system has challenges that go way beyond what other school systems
have," Fonfara said.
Fonfara reminded city officials that
Hartford has an influx of impoverished refugees from Somalia and
Liberia, many of whom never attended school before and don't speak
And Fonfara, an education committee
member, reminded school officials that the city school district
toils to teach the many children who are born addicted to drugs
or affected by fetal alcohol syndrome.
Mayor Eddie A. Perez, Hartford's school
board chairman, picked up on Fonfara's cues. "We are not the
efficient and well-oiled machine that we could be," he said.
"You're right - we should be admitting where we're at."
State Rep. Art J. Feltman, D-Hartford,
questioned Perez about whether the district spends too much money
on administrators and not enough on teachers and guidance counselors.
"Can we get corporate-style results for those corporate-style
Perez said that he and the board are
studying the district's finances. And he stressed the district's
needs, saying, for example, that the state is funding about 180
fewer preschool slots this year than it was last year. The cap on
special education funding is making it all the more challenging
for Hartford to mainstream special education students, as the state
has pushed the city to do, he said.
State Rep. Andrew M. Fleischmann,
D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the committee, told Perez that "we
don't think it's appropriate to have a cap on special education"
and he said his committee sympathizes with Hartford's challenges.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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