Education Aid: Here’s What Is In The Bipartisan CT Budget Plan

Education Aid: Here’s What Is In The Bipartisan CT Budget Plan

CT Mirror, October 26, 2017

By Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

The bipartisan budget that legislators expect to approve this week would cut the primary state grant that helps municipalities run their local public schools by $31.4 million this fiscal year – a 1.6 percent reduction.

The state’s 30 lowest-performing districts and three other towns will be shielded from any cuts to the Education Cost Sharing grant, which means the $30 million will come from Connecticut’s remaining 136 towns.

“We’re not talking millions and millions,” Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said during an interview. “This is not going to pull the rug out from these smaller districts.”

“It’s absorbable,” Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano of North Haven told reporters Tuesday.

A list of town-by-town cuts is not yet publicly available but is expected when the Senate takes up the budget bill later today.

According to details of the plan explained to The Mirror, no town will lose all of its ECS aid. An earlier budget proposal by the governor and Democratic legislators stripped all aid from 36 towns. The legislature rejected that budget by a narrow margin, and the issue has been a major sticking point in arriving at the final bipartisan budget plan.

Unknown at this point is the level of funding for numerous other, smaller education grants that high-poverty municipalities rely on to help pay for things like summer and after-school programs, reading tutors and supports for English learners. Line-by-line budget details are expected later today.

How the state funds education has been of increased interest this year because a Superior Court judge last fall ruled the state’s method of distributing aid was is irrational and unconstitutional. The judge ordered the state to stick to a funding formula. While appeals of that decision are pending before the state Supreme Court, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed taking $300 million in existing state education aid away from better-off communities and redistributing it to the state’s most impoverished districts.

But that plan faced insurmountable pushback from local educators and municipal officials as well as legislators from both parties who were being asked to approve sizable cuts for their communities.

After a Republican budget proposal passed the legislature and was vetoed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, legislative leaders resumed bipartisan talks with the goal of adopting a bipartisan, veto-proof budget.

Left out of the negotiations, Malloy on Friday expressed concern that the final budget won’t go far enough to help struggling districts.

“We’ve been told that more towns are getting more aid, but how much? Is it enough to begin addressing the massive inequities in education between wealthy and less-affluent towns?” Malloy asked. “Will it take years to ramp up to have any meaningful difference in the lives of students who started kindergarten this year. If it takes 10 years to get equity, that’s pretty late in someone’s career having started school this year to wait to get equity in their situations.”

The budget deal negotiated between the governor and Democratic leaders would have sent only an additional $11 million to the 30 lowest-performing districts.

The bipartisan budget deal would not send any additional aid to any district this fiscal year. However, in the fiscal year that begins next July, $30 million would be added and redistributed through an updated education formula that will send more money to needier districts. The formula determines the state’s aid to a district by taking into account its overall enrollment, the number of low-income students and the municipality’s wealth.

 

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Here is a quick rundown of the major changes that would be made to the formula:

Since 2009 the formula has not called for any additional state aid to school districts for students who speak limited or no English. Connecticut for years has had among the largest-in-the-nation achievement gaps between English learners and their peers. The budget deal would provide a 15 percent per-student boost in the grant for each English learner, a change that would largely impact the state’s lowest-achieving districts.

For now the budget deal would continue to use how many students receive free-and-reduced price meals as the measure of how many high-need students a district has. However, the budget legislation directs the state departments of education and social services to come up with a new way to measure high-need in public schools. How the state counts such students has been a major point of debate in shaping a formula. As more schools have moved toward universal free school lunch programs, the use of free and reduced-priced meals to count high-need students has become problematic. But it’s been hard to come up with feasible alternative measures.

Currently the formula adjusts each district’s student enrollment count upward by 30 percent for each student they enroll that receives discounted or free meals. For example, 100 poor students count as 130 students in the formula. In the new formula districts where more than three-quarter of the students are deemed low-income, the district will get an addition 5 percent weight in state aid for each of those students.

Currently the formula uses taxable property as 90 percent of the measure of a municipality’s wealth — that is, its ability to finance its public schools. Median income counts for the remaining 10 percent. This has left officials from places like Norwalk and Stamford complaining that, while the houses in their communities may be worth a lot, the average household income is middle-of-the-pack – and residents are not able to afford a huge tax bill to fund schools. The budget deal would increase the weighting of median income to 30 percent.

Towns that lose education aid will be given some additional flexibility in meeting a state requirement that districts not cut education spending from year to year. Details, however, were not immediately available as of Thursday at noon.

Duff, the Senate majority leader, said more equity is certain to be achieved as the formula rolls out.

“As the formula takes more effect, you will start seeing more aid going to towns where we all believe we should be seeing additional funding,” Duff said. “I think it’s beginning the process to finally have education funding reform that, over time, will make it more clear how it helps those in need.”