A school funding committee Monday voted to recommend that the state take a "money-follows-the-child" approach to paying for students who attend magnet schools, charter schools and other school choice options.
The recommendation, which teachers' union representatives criticized, next will go to the State Board of Education for action and then possibly to the governor and legislature. Any change would not go into effect for a few years.
Under the proposal, the state and a student's hometown would pay for the cost of the student to attend any out-of-town school choice option. If a Granby student, for example, attended a magnet school in Hartford, the state and the town of Granby would pay the Hartford magnet school for the cost of the child's education. Granby would not get any state education money for the child.
Currently, the state pays both the district with the choice school and the student's hometown district, essentially paying twice for the same student.
The new approach also would give some uniformity to the current hodgepodge of formulas that the state has for paying for magnets, technical schools and other school choices.
The committee also recommended that the state pay an average of at least 50 percent of the cost of education, with municipalites paying the other half. The state is supposed to pay 50 percent but has never reached that level, only coming as high as 47 percent years ago. The state currently pays an average of 37 percent of the cost of education, with local districts bearing the rest of the cost.
Allan Taylor, the State Board of Education chairman who also chairs the committee, said the current system is incoherent.
"Each [school choice option] has a different funding system," he said. "They are all Connecticut students going to Connecticut public schools, so it doesn't make sense to me."
Taylor said that other states, including Colorado and North Carolina, have successfully taken this approach.
Committee member Alex Johnston, who is executive director of ConnCAN, a charter school advocacy group, praised the concept of a more student-focused approach. Charter schools currently are not eligible for state Education Cost Sharing grants paid to towns. Instead, they get a state grant based on the cost per pupil.
But teachers' union representatives said the proposed change would be expensive and make it difficult for local districts to plan and budget. John Yrchik, director of the Connecticut Education Association, also pointed out that taxpayers from one municipality would be sending money to another municipality to pay for school choice.
Sharon Palmer, president of the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said she wants to be sure there is enough funding for students who stay in traditional neighborhood schools.
"Our job is to make sure they don't get left out of the equation," she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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