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Congressional study: CT Near The Top In Funding Schools With Property Tax

Congressional study: CT Near The Top In Funding Schools With Property Tax

Hartford Courant, October 16, 2019

By Eliza Fawcett

The much vilified local property tax — often blamed for aggravating educational inequality, but a cornerstone of school funding — provides more than 55 percent of revenue for local public schools here, ranking Connecticut ahead of most other states, according to a Congressional study that examined how states pay for public education.

With 55.3% of school funding coming from local sources, Connecticut ranks 12th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of the amount of funding for public elementary and secondary schools that comes from municipal government revenues, which come largely from local property taxes in communities across the nation. The Congressional Research Service report ranks Connecticut 39th overall, at 40.3%, when it comes to the share of its public school funding from the state government.

The state ranks 50th overall in terms of the amount of funding drawn from the federal government, with just 4.3 percent come from federal sources. The data reflects the 2015-2016 school year, the last year for which comprehensive numbers are available.

The finding highlights the ways in which municipal and regional governments continue to drive education in Connecticut, which has some of the greatest levels of income inequality in the nation. Across the state, stark disparities persist in neighboring school districts — and in schools within the same city, like those in Hartford, which have long struggled to integrate.  

income inequality, segregation back to top

In some parts of Connecticut, public schools’ reliance on local revenue sources has meant stark income inequality and racial segregation between neighboring school districts.

The Bridgeport School District spends $16,000 on each of its 21,040 students, who are 86 percent nonwhite and have a student poverty rate of 27 percent, according to a July report from EdBuild, a nonprofit that studies equity in school funding. In the neighboring school district of Fairfield, $5,589 more is spent per pupil on the district’s 9,991 students, who are 22 percent nonwhite and have a student poverty rate of 4 percent. Bridgeport’s other bordering districts, Stratford and Trumbull, also spend more money on fewer students, who tend to be white and more affluent. 

In the CRS report, which analyzed the revenue breakdown for every state and D.C., Hawaii stands at one end of the spectrum, with the vast majority (89.4%) of its public education funded by the state government, while the D.C. stands at the other end, with nearly all (90.1%) of its education funded through local government. Of the 50 states, Illinois has the lowest share of state revenues (24.1%) and the highest share of local revenues (67.4%).

Connecticut’s national ranking for public education funding — with more emphasis on local revenue sources than state or federal sources — is similar to that of New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. Vermont, which has almost completely eliminated public school funding from local funds, represents an outlier in New England, with 89.3% of its public school funding coming from the state government.

Statewide, local property taxes now total more than $11 billion in annual revenue, an increase of at least $500 million since 2017, according to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. The personal income tax brought in $10.8 billion in 2018.