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Malloy Proposes Pumping $50 Million Into Education Cost-Sharing

As part of his overall $128 million education plan, 80 percent of ECS funds would target low-performing districts

By KATHLEEN MEGAN

February 07, 2012

Gov.Dannel P. Malloywill announce plans Wednesday morning to pump $50 million in new funds into education cost-sharing the state's main engine of funding for public education and concentrating most of the new money in the 30 lowest-performing districts, a source briefed on the governor's budget said.

Under Malloy's plan, 130 towns and cities would see their education cost-sharing grants increase during the coming fiscal year, while 39 towns will see their grants from the state remain the same. No town will receive less aid in 2012-13 than it now receives.

The $50 million increase in education cost-sharing money for cities and towns is the largest chunk of the total $128 million in new education spending that the governor will propose Wednesday as part of his overall state budget plan.

Of that $128 million, 80 percent is targeted for low-achieving "priority" districts, the source said. Currently, 63 percent of the education-cost sharing money goes to those districts.

"The governor articulated a series of principles several months ago that the new aid we provide should be targeted to those districts and schools with the greatest challenge in the area of achievement," the source said. "The principle goal is to address the achievement gap."

At a news conference early Tuesday, Malloy declined to provide details of how his budget proposal Wedneday might address education cost-sharing.

Pressed by reporters, Malloy said: "This is a comprehensive package, which will begin the process of redirecting our assets to the 30 schools districts which on some measurement are underperforming. We will begin the path of directing our assets more appropriately to those communities."

The governor also will propose revising the long-controversial formula for education cost-sharing in an effort to more accurately reflect the demographics and need in each Connecticut community. Malloy also will call for the state to raise the amount budgeted per child in the formula from $9,867 to $12,000.

"It's been a long time coming," the source said. "Increasing the foundation level has been a big demand from a lot of towns and districts for many years."

Malloy's proposal also includes $4.5 million in competitive funds that would be available to all districts to try innovative programs to improve students' performance and close the achievement gap.

The proposal also includes funding for charter schools as part of the education cost-sharing grant, rather than as a separate line item, as is now the case.

Heated Criticism,Worries About Change

The state's education cost-sharing formula has long been the subject of heated criticism and debate as city and town leaders worried about how change might affect them.

Earlier this month, Bristol Superintendent Philip Streifer predicted that his city might come out a loser if the formula were rewritten.

But in Malloy's proposal, Bristol, a priority school district, would do relatively well, with an increase in funding of almost 4 percent.

The revisions range from highs of an 11.53 percent increase in funding for Stamford, Malloy's hometown, and a 7.42 percent increase for Danbury, to no increase in towns such as Avon, Farmington, Wilton and Weston.

Asked about the hefty percentage increase that would be projected for Stamford and Danbury, the source said, this is "because they have been so dramatically underfunded. ... In percentage increase, it shows up as larger, but that's largely a reflection of how small their grant is."

There is a high level of student need in those cities, the source said, and many new immigrants. The formula "tends to drive aid toward districts that have high levels of student need."

"I think Stamford and Danbury have been poorly served by the formula for a long time."

Of the $50 million increase proposed for the education cost-sharing fund, $39.5 million or 79 percent is earmarked for the 30 priority districts if they meet certain conditions. Those districts include Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, New Britain, Meriden, Manchester and other urban areas.

"This new funding comes with strings attached," the source said. "They have to submit a plan to the [state] Department of Education. It requires they use the funding to increase academic performance and reduce the achievement gap."

The source said that state statutes would allow school districts to pursue such strategies as extending the school day; recruiting teachers and school leaders; and using reading intervention and other methods to improve the academic achievement of low-performing students.

The remaining $10.5 million in the new education cost-sharing money would largely go to cities and towns that have been "pretty steeply underfunded in the past," the source said.

"Towns like West Hartford, Stratford, will see relatively large increases," the source said. "Torrington, Plainfield. The formula has been capped and frozen in one way or another for so long, it hasn't kept up with the economic needs of those communities."

The source also noted that the proposed new education cost-sharing formula would be phased in gradually, with the priority districts getting additional funding at a faster rate than the other cities and towns.

"We have a better formula that drives money in more targeted ways," the source said, "and we are going to gradually transition over to that new formula. ... The formula would require billions of dollars to fully fund in the first year, and we're not sure that makes sense. We believe right now that $50 million through ECS is what we can afford, is what we think is the right next step."

Since August, an Education Cost Sharing Task Force appointed by Malloy and legislative leaders has been at work revising the formula.

Earlier this month, the task force came out with an interim report, but did not mention any specific recommendations for changes in the cost-sharing formula. The task force's final report isn't due until October.

Sen. Andrea Stillman, D- Waterford, co-chairwoman of the legislature's education committee and a member of the task force, said Tuesday, before the governor's proposal became public, that even if Malloy did propose major changes to the cost-sharing formula, "that doesn't mean we're done with our work. It doesn't mean it's the end of the process."

She said the formula is "very complicated" and will continue to need refining.

New Measure Of Poverty

Malloy's proposal would change the education cost-sharing formula in certain key ways. The basic structure of the revised formula would take into account the same factors: the number of students in a community and how needy they are; a base amount of spending per child; and the property wealth of a town.

But, the level of child poverty in a community would be measured in a new way. Rather than basing it on the number of students who are eligible for the free and reduced-price lunch program which can be a flawed measure the proposed formula instead would be based on the number of children who qualify for Husky A, the government-funded insurance program for low-income children.

The new formula also increases the "weighting" for students with limited English, by including students in bilingual education programs. The principle is that it probably costs more to provide an education to a student with limited English, the source said.

In addition, the U.S. Census data from 2000 that currently are used in the formula would be replaced by updated data on median household income provided by the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

The proposed change in the "foundation" amount, or the approximate spending on each child from $9,867 to $12,000 amounts to 21.6 percent increase.

And the new formula would reduce the "minimum aid ratio" from 9 percent to zero. Under the current formula, even if a city or town is too wealthy to qualify for aid, it is eligible to receive at least 9 percent of the aid it would have received if wealth were not a factor.

Those wealthy towns won't receive less than they did last year, the source said, but this new element would mean they won't get additional funding. If the proposal is approved, it could mean they won't get additional funding for some time, the source 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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