HARTFORD —— The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities Tuesday called for reforms in how the state pays for public education, including full reimbursement for special education and other programs.
The organization, which represents Connecticut's cities and towns, says the state should reform the formula for the education cost sharing grant — the largest state grant for education — and increase funding for other programs.
CCM Executive Director Jim Finley said he hopes the 12-member Education Cost Sharing Task Force, which was established by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2011, will take note of CCM's report and consider its suggestions.
"CCM is calling on the ECS task force to stand up and do what's right," he said.
While Connecticut did take steps last legislative session to improve education in an attempt to shrink the achievement gap, Finley said lawmakers didn't address how public education is funded. That issue needs to be discussed, and changes need to be made, he said.
"Education is clearly a huge priority of the governor," said Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes, who chairs the task force. He would not say whether the governor would support future increases in funding for schools.
CCM says the state doesn't contribute enough money for pre-kindergarten through grade 12 education. It underfunds the education cost sharing grant by more than $763 million, a CCM report states, explaining that the cost of public education in Connecticut for this school year is about $10 billion.
The state contributes about 42.9 percent to the total cost, the federal government contributes 5.2 percent and municipalities shoulder 51.4 percent. Another 0.5 percent is from other private donations and contributions.
In addition, CCM says towns pay for at least 60 percent of Connecticut's $1.7 billion in special education spending — costs that the organization says state and federal governments should be paying instead.
Finley did acknowledge that the state increased education funding this fiscal year, but said the way that it was done worries him. Thirty of the state's lowest performing school districts share $39 million, but had to apply for the funding. The competition gets rid of the notion of equality, Finley says.
Meanwhile, the state's Education Cost Sharing Task Force met Tuesday afternoon and is expected to approve recommendations on possible ways to change the school funding formula later this month. The report will then go to the governor and state lawmakers.
To further highlight the need for change, Finley stressed that the responsibility to provide school funding can often rest with the average homeowner, since 70 percent of municipal tax revenue come from property taxes. CCM says cities and town have eliminated or reduced municipal services to pay for education, while state funding for schools has mostly remained flat.
The fact that Connecticut elies too heavily on money collected from local property taxes may be problematic, Finley said, explaining that the 1977 Horton v. Meskill state Supreme Court decision said the state's educational system was unconstitutional because of that very reason. Connecticut may no longer be in compliance with that decision, Finley said.
Barnes says he disagrees. The state is meeting its obligations, he said. There are a lot of good reasons to spend more on education, but he said there is also a lot of demand on an already tight budget.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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