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Spending Said To Lag In Poor, Minority Schools

By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
December 22, 2005

Poor and minority schoolchildren in most states, including Connecticut, attend schools that spend less than those attended by wealthy and white children, according to a national study released today.

Across the nation, the poorest school districts spend about $900 less per pupil in state and local money than the wealthiest districts do, says the study by Education Trust, a Washington-based advocacy group.

In Connecticut, the gap was $239 for each pupil, according to the study, which analyzed financial and demographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Education.

Similarly, Connecticut districts with the highest percentage of minority children spent about $450 less per pupil than did those with the lowest percentage, the study reported.

"Connecticut is not doing enough to educate its low-income and minority children," said Ross Wiener, an official with Education Trust, a group working to improve educational opportunities for poor and minority children.

"The problem is clear in its achievement gap data," Wiener said, referring to the overall low academic performance of the state's low-income and minority children in comparison to their wealthier, white classmates. The gap is among the largest in the nation.

However, an examination of spending figures suggests that Education Trust's general findings do not hold true in some cases in Connecticut, especially when federal school aid is taken into account.

In its analysis, Education Trust did not include support from the federal government, which sends millions of dollars to poor districts such as Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport.

In Hartford, for example, which enrolls some of the state's poorest children, schools spent $12,646 per pupil from state, local and federal sources - more than in wealthy towns such as Avon at $9,649 or New Canaan at $12,613 in 2002-03, the same school year examined by Education Trust.

In fact, the seven school districts categorized by the state education department as Connecticut's poorest and most disadvantaged spent an average of $11,369 per pupil in 2002-03, slightly more than the $11,230 spent by the 12 districts in the wealthiest category.

State funding formulas generally include adjustments to send more money to poor districts. "What we do give is very much directed at the school districts that need it the most," said Mark Stapleton, head of the state education department's legal division.

The Education Trust report said federal funds were not included because they are "specifically meant to supplement, not supplant, state and local revenues."

The group said state and local funding gaps are widespread, with shortages in spending for poor children found in more than half the states.

The problem worsens, the analysts said, when the figures are adjusted to account for the additional cost of educating poor children, who often require more intensive services in areas such as special education, preschool classes, remedial courses, health services and counseling.

To measure those factors, the analysts also computed the spending gaps by adding 40 percent to the average per student cost of educating poor children. When that adjustment was applied, the funding gap between poor and wealthy districts nationwide grew to more than $1,400 for each student.

In Connecticut, when that adjustment was made, the gap grew to $876.

For many years, school funding in Connecticut has been the subject of heated debates in the legislature and the courts.

In 1977, the state Supreme Court ordered the state to close a large funding gap between the state's wealthiest and poorest cities, sending millions to the state's poorest cities. But the state's share of education funding has been shrinking in recent years.

Fifteen years ago, the state paid nearly 46 percent of the cost of running public schools; that figure has dropped to about 38 percent.

The issue of unequal funding also arose in the long-running Sheff vs. O'Neill school desegregation case against the state, which contended that the poor, mostly minority school population in Hartford received an inferior education.

More recently, the state itself sued the federal government, alleging that President Bush's school reform law, the No Child Left Behind Act, does not provide enough money to help schools meet the law's goals.

The findings in today's Education Trust report are similar to claims made in a lawsuit filed against the state last month by a coalition of municipal and education leaders seeking to revamp Connecticut's school funding system.

That lawsuit contends that spending in many districts, including those in the state's largest and poorest cities, falls far short of what is needed to help students meet state and federal standards.

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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