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Bill Would Increase Open Choice Funding


March 24, 2009

The legislature's education committee is reviewing a bill that would give suburban school districts more money for each Hartford student they enroll through the regional Open Choice program.

The bill was among several discussed at an education committee public hearing at the Legislative Office Building Monday afternoon.

The state is hoping the Open Choice program will help the effort to enroll more Hartford minority students in diverse school settings under the Sheff v. O'Neill desegregation ruling. State Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan proposed increasing the money districts get, from $2,500 per pupil to at least $3,000 per pupil. If districts take a higher percentage of Hartford students, McQuillan's proposal would pay them up to $6,000 per student in 2009-10.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell didn't increase the Open Choice per-pupil funding or add money that was requested for magnet school tuition and transportation in her budget proposal. But the education committee is trying to get the money included in the budget.

"I'm working with colleagues to properly fund the Open Choice and magnet schools," said state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D- West Hartford, co-chairman of the education committee.

It's up to the appropriations committee to determine what will be included in the budget, but Fleischmann said the education committee has supported fully funding the Sheff goals.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Fleischmann said.

Robert L. Genuario, Rell's budget chief, testified Monday that funding increases for districts would cost the state $3.2 million more in 2009-10 and $5.9 million more in 2010-11, when the proposed per-pupil payments would increase.

"While I understand and appreciate how important this program is, especially in the Hartford region in order to meet the goals of the Sheff-stipulated agreement," Genuario said, "during this economic climate, it would not be prudent to increase this program."

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.
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