Advocates Of Money Follows The Child School Funding Press Case At Capitol
Scores Of Students Support Changing Education Funding In Connecticut
By DANIELA ALTIMARI
March 24, 2011
HARTFORD —— Scores of students in yellow T-shirts proclaiming "Fund Me Fairly" came to the state Capitol complex Thursday afternoon to press for an education funding bill that would send more money to some magnet and charter schools.
The controversial measure, dubbed "money follows the child," was the subject of a lengthy public hearing before the legislature's appropriations committee. Under the bill, state money for students attending magnets and charters would be sent directly to those schools and not partially shared with the student's home district, as it is now.
Advocates of the change said it's a matter of fairness, but they face a struggle.
A divided State Board of Education tabled a similar set of guidelines last month, effectively killing the proposal for now. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget chief, Ben Barnes, is also opposed to the bill. Barnes acknowledged that the state's current education cost-sharing formula "has not functioned in years,'' but said this bill would create additional inequities. Instead of passing it this session, lawmakers ought to wait until a task force studying the issue has completed its work, he said.
At 116 pages, the bill is extremely complex. State Sen. Edith Prague, a Democrat from Columbia, said she asked legislative staffers for a summary and was told "this bill is so complicated, we have not yet put together a summary."
Advocates focused their case on the strengths and successes of charter schools.
Christine Wright, a senior at Amistad Elm City High School in New Haven, said she has blossomed from a once-struggling student to an academic success story. She said she has been accepted at Dartmouth College, Fairfield University and the University of Connecticut, among other schools.
"I may just be a kid, but I do hope you consider the difference a great charter school has made in my life,'' Wright told the appropriations committee. "We need your help to continue these efforts to ensure that our schools have the funding they need to continue to function."
Pat Sweet, a lobbyist for Achievement First, which manages Amistad and 18 other charter schools in Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven and New York City, said Connecticut's school funding system is "antiquated," and she noted that both Massachusetts and New York State have adopted a "money follows the child" approach. Connecticut currently funnels education money to both the child's home school district and the charter school, an arrangement some charter schools say has shortchanged them by thousands of dollars per student.
More than 65 people signed up to speak at the hearing, most of them in favor of the bill. The room was filled with charter school students, parents and administrators as well as several philanthropists who fund such institutions.
But Bristol Mayor Art Ward and the city's superintendent of schools, Philip A. Streifer, expressed opposition to the measure, which they say was hastily drafted and poorly thought-out.
Streifer said the bill would redirect tax dollars to independently run schools outside the purview of the local board of education and he estimated that by radically altering the ECS funding formula, the bill would cost Bristol $1.5 million a year in lost funding.
"Local tax dollars will clearly not be able to keep up with ever-expanding choice programs,'' Streifer said. Cities and towns "simply cannot raise taxes enough to … provide what we consider a good quality education" should the bill pass, he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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