HARTFORD— Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Tuesday proposed boosting school funding by $152 million for 117 districts over the next two years, with much of it aimed at the state's lowest performing schools.
"We will invest in our schools and we will focus funding where we need to focus it," Malloy said at a morning press conference announcing the education portion of the budget he will deliver to the General Assembly on Wednesday.
Although dozens of districts will not get any increases in funding, no district will receive less and 30 struggling districts will see substantial increases, Malloy said. "We are concentrating on lifting performance."
The governor has yet to say how he will pay for the increased funding for education and other budget priorities when the state is facing a projected $1 billion budget deficit for fiscal 2013-14.
Malloy is asking the General Assembly to spend $1.99 billion on schools for the 2013-14 school year, an increase of 2.6 percent.
Some districts with low-performing schools, such as Stamford, Danbury and Norwalk, would receive double-digit percentage increases over two years. In general, districts with needier students would get more money while affluent towns, such as Fairfield and Greenwich, would be flat-funded.
The Malloy plan would add $50.7 million to school spending in the 2013-14 fiscal year and $101.5 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year. The governor touted his plan as part of a continuing reform of state schools. Connecticut has the largest achievement gap in the country between white and minority students.
Hartford Superintendent Christina M. Kishimoto said the increase for Hartford — about $13 million over two years — will "go a long way to helping us sustain the reform work. ... This will go a long way to ensuring that we are focused on great schools and retention of talent."
Kishimoto said that without the increase, the district could have faced possible layoffs.
Patrice McCarthy, deputy director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said "any increase in education cost sharing is welcomed by the districts, given the number of new initiatives that all districts will need to implement, including the new educator evaluation program, and the common core standards."
But McCarthy said she is concerned that a number of districts will receive no increase, "including some of the poorer districts like Chaplin and Hampton. They are dealing with significant local budget constraints."
Although a $152 million increase in a $2 billion education budget is not a huge jump in funding, Malloy said it demonstrates his commitment to public schools. Given the state's fiscal situation, Malloy said, "it's a lot more than anyone expects us to do."
"This is about priorities," Malloy said. "It is time that Connecticut sets it priorities and education, workforce development, and job attraction have to be our top priorities. So we are going to spend money that is in keeping with those priorities."
The increases will come to the low-performing districts — called alliance districts — with the same strings attached as accompanied increases for those districts this year.
This means the low-performing districts have to submit a plan that shows that a substantial majority of the money will be allocated for reform efforts, said Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who also attended Malloy's press conference Tuesday.
Elizabeth Brown, a school board member in Waterbury, one of the alliance districts, said the additional money is welcome, but restrictions on the money make it a "mixed blessing."
Pryor said that when state officials consider alliance districts' plans to use the additional money, emphasis will be placed on using funding to assist with the roll-out of a new teacher evaluation system, the implementation of more rigorous common core curriculum standards, and the turnaround of low performing schools. Every district is grappling with those issues, Pryor said.
At Tuesday's news conference, Malloy also announced a new collaborative partnership between the state education agency and the state's two teacher unions, aimed at attracting and retaining top teachers.
Pryor said districts will be asked to compete for $2 million to $3 million to implement new programs designed to improve the retention of top teachers. He said two to three districts would be chosen to carry out the program.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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