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School Funding Discussed

Mayors, Superintendents Meet Over Results Of Study That Could Lead To Lawsuit

April 12, 2005
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer

Mayors and school superintendents from around the state gathered at the Legislative Office Building Monday to hear preliminary results of an equity study for school funding and to lay the groundwork for a potential lawsuit to change the way the state funds education.

The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding's preliminary report, conducted by Denver-based Augenblick, Palaich and Associates Inc., concludes that Connecticut's large and urban districts should spend $16,137 per pupil, moderate-sized districts should spend $13,429 and small K-12 districts should spend $12,258.

Using those numbers, Hartford, for example, comes up around $130 million short with a per pupil expenditure of $10,734 for the 2003-04 school year and enrollment of around 24,000 students. The study adjusts for high poverty, special education, limited English language proficiency and professional judgments about what schools need.

Every state senator and representative was invited to the presentation - and legislation was presented as the only way to head off a lawsuit - but only a couple of lawmakers stopped in to hear part of the conference, sponsored by the coalition.

In the past 15 years, groups in 26 states have sued their states to reform education funding, and 80 percent of them have succeeded, said attorney Michael A. Rebell, the lawyer who won a $5.6 billion judgment for New York City schools operating costs and $9.2 billion for facilities. New York's governor has appealed the judgment.

New York's litigation took 10 years, but Rebell said that was due, in part, to the fact that a study showing what the city needed to make its schools equal to other districts was not completed until years into the litigation. Ultimately, the study showed the cost at around $16,000 per student, Rebell said.

On May 31, the consultants will release a district-by-district analysis of ideal per pupil costs in Connecticut.

Yale Law School professor Robert A. Solomon and 12 of his students who are working with him to prepare a lawsuit attended the conference. Solomon and his students are dedicating their time for free.

David Sciarra, executive director for the Education Law Center in New Jersey and the lawyer for the New Jersey plaintiffs who successfully sued that state in the landmark case Abbott vs. Burke, showed graphs that reflected dramatic decreases in the achievement gap between poor and more advantaged children after infusions of cash.

Maryland is the only state in the nation that restructured the way public education is funded with legislation rather than litigation, although litigation in a single district did set the stage for lawmakers. Alvin Thornton, associate provost for academic affairs at Howard University and leader of the state commission that recommended the changes, attributed the noncombative way the state addressed inequities in education funding to a few visionaries in the legislature.

Rallies with "thousands and thousands" of people showing support for legislative changes was critical for keeping momentum, Thornton said.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal attended to rally support for his planned lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education over what he says is inadequate funding of a mandate to expand standardized tests.

During the three-hour conference, 10 mayors and first selectmen from communities as varied as Hartford, Bridgeport, Danbury, Stamford and Middletown joined almost as many superintendents and school board members from an equally varied collection of municipalities, including New Hartford, Wethersfield, Greenwich, Putnam, New London and Madison.

"We need to revise the way we fund education in our state," Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez said. "That means restructuring our entire tax system. ... Schoolchildren need opportunity and we all know opportunity costs money."

Perez and others complained bitterly about a funding structure that they said forces local property owners to carry the burden of paying for education and pits school boards against town councils and taxpayer groups.

"From this day forward, we will assure that the human rights of children are not a zero sum game where some lose," Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy said.

"I think the groundswell has begun," Bridgeport Mayor John Fabrizi said.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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