As the state legislature convenes today and begins its battle to fix Connecticut’s ailing education system, State Rep. Lonnie Reed (D-Branford) is promising to fight for Branford’s share of state funding, no matter how meager it is. That was on Monday.
As it turned out, Branford’s piece of a proposed new $50 million statewide pie is $19 per student. That announcement came today.
Gov. Dannel Malloy announced early today that he plans to increase state education funding by $50 million, with the largest amounts going to the lowest-performing districts. According to his proposal, not all districts would receive additional money.
Branford, with a current enrollment of 3,326 students, would receive an additional $19 per student, bringing its total share to $397 per pupil. The district currently receives about $1.8 in Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funds.
Guilford, which would not receive any additional funds, had 3,706 students in 2010 and currently receives $3 million in ECS funds. Click here to read a CT News Junkie story on Wednesday’s developments.
Reed’s long-term goal is to revamp the archaic funding system to make it fair to all districts, she said.
Reed was invited to the Representative Town Meeting’s (RTM) Education Committee Monday night to explain what’s happening on the state level with education reform and how the state funds public education.
According to the state’s ECS formula, Branford now receives about $378 per student from the state. With the addition of $19, the district will receive $397 per pupil. The cost to educate a child in Branford is $14,010, according to state figures. This means that property taxes have to pick up the rest of the tab. The average cost per pupil in Connecticut is about $14,551.
“The way ECS works now, everybody is very disappointed,” Reed told the Eagle Monday. “I want us to have more [state funding]. Our diversities demand we get more.There are programs we need that are costly.”
Ever since Malloy declared education reform as this top legislative priority for 2012, questions about funding have escalated. The governor has also convened a task force to investigate ways to reconfigure the ECS funding formula.
According to information from the ECS task force, the poorest school districts, mostly in urban areas, receive about $7,000 per pupil in state funding.
The ECS is based on a town’s grand list, which means towns with pricier property values receive less funding. Shoreline towns like Branford take a hit because waterfront property has a high valuation. But Reed said the funding formula does not take into account the diversities and needs that exist throughout the town.
Reed has long been a proponent of changing the ECS. Before being elected to the state post, she chaired the Education Committee for the RTM. At that time, Reed urged the RTM to join the Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) lawsuit in hopes of making the ECS funding formula more equitable. The RTM did.
Board of Education Chairman Frank Carrano was recently appointed president of the CCJEF. His appointment comes as the CCJEF prepares for trial against the state of Connecticut, a trial tentatively set for 2014 and centering on 10 school districts. All are members of CCJEF. The state issued wide-reaching subpoenas for records from these school districts Monday.
At issue is whether the state has adequately and equitably funded the state’s public schools. Connecticut has the largest educational achievement gap in the nation, with wide racial and economic disparities.
“We’re not giving up what we’ve got,” Reed told the committee in regard to funding. “Our kids have challenges too. We don’t want to be abandoned while we fix the achievement gap. We’re all in this together.”
Even before the legislature convened today, Malloy announced several proposals to help close the education gap.
One of the fears Reed has already heard expressed at the state Capitol is that increasing money for low-performing schools could drain the state’s budget for other districts and other programs. “That’s a big concern, and people are talking about it.”
Reed said she hopes it will not turn into a clash between urban and non-urban schools.
“I think there’s going to be some turf battles, but we all want to figure out a way to fix this,” Reed told the committee. “We really have to figure out how to work together so we can move forward.”
Malloy’s reform goals are to promote early childhood education, turn around low-performing schools, remove red tape so that schools can be innovative; ensure that schools have the best teachers and principals; and deliver more resources to districts with the greatest need.
Reed commended the commitment to education reform demonstrated by both the governor and Stefan Pryor, the newly appointed commissioner of education. She said they both favor giving local boards of education and administrators more flexibility to tailor programs and resources to meet their district’s unique needs.
One of Reed’s proposals to boost funding for all districts deals with special education. “I’ve always felt the state should pick up the tab for special education…that would be fair to every district. You would be looking at the needs of the students.”
She said no one expects all the state’s education problems can be addressed in one legislative session. “But everybody is coming to the table,” she said. “The conversation is beginning.”
Maryann Amore, chair of the RTM Education Committee, asked Reed how Branford can become more engaged in the process.
Reed suggested committee members and other interested parties come up to Hartford and testify at the public hearings. She also suggested people can watch the televised hearings and read news articles.