By Skyler Inman
Amid continued discussion of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s new budget proposal, including a series of public hearings by the Connecticut House Appropriations Committee, members of the education community have come out decidedly against the governor’s funding plan for the state’s public schools and universities.
On Tuesday, the Appropriations Committee heard the testimonies of over 100 representatives from charter, magnet and traditional public schools, as well as community programs and institutions of higher learning. Those who testified spoke out against budget cuts that will affect a wide array of state education services, including summer and after-school programs, some early childhood programs and the state’s public universities and community colleges. Even in areas where funds are not cut, education experts say many programs remain flat-funded, receiving an amount from the state that is not adjusted for annual increases in costs.
A summary of Malloy’s budget, compiled by Kathy Guay, a policy research consultant for the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, found that the governor’s plan eliminates $18.6 million in grants, with the largest cuts in extended day and summer school programs for Priority School Districts — a funding category for districts with the greatest need, including New Haven.
Superintendent of New Haven Public Schools Garth Harries ’95, who testified at Tuesday night’s hearing, recognized the state’s funding difficulties but underscored the importance of continued funding for all of NHPS’s programs. In his testimony, Harries called out priority funding in the areas of summer school and after-school programs.
Carlos Torre, president of the New Haven Board of Education, agreed that after school and summer school programs occupy an important role the district.
“Rather than cutting, funding should be increased,” Torre said to the News. “One sacrifice is the learning, and another is the scheduling for parents and the students. They’re obviously going to be occupied doing something else other than learning.”
In his budget address, Malloy contrasted his proposal with those of other states, which he said balance their funds on the backs of public schools. Instead, he said his budget plan supports schools by maintaining current funding for the Education Cost Sharing fund.
The ECS fund is one of several ways for schools in Connecticut to receive funding. Some education advocacy groups, including the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding — an umbrella group of parents, students and education reform activists — have challenged its fairness in recent years. The group contends that the ECS fund is outdated and unfair in its practices and that it tends to under-fund urban areas such as Bridgeport and New Haven that have relatively less taxable property with which to raise revenue.
Malloy, who served as a founding member of CCJEF when he was mayor of Stamford, was listed among the original plaintiffs of the 2005 case that the group brought against the state to challenge education finance laws. That case is expected to go to trial some time this year.
“We have a fundamentally broken system of funding our schools in Connecticut,” Jennifer Alexander, CEO of education activism group Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, said. “And until we have a fair and consistent and transparent way of funding students across schools and regardless of their learning needs, I think we’re going to continue to have contentious debate about where our education dollars should go.”
While Alexander said ConnCAN is encouraged by some of the budget’s investments in education, the plan is flat-funding schools across the state. She said costs have increased but the per-pupil funding both to charter and traditional schools has not increased. The consequences of this, she said, often mean reducing staff and eliminating programs.
The Appropriations Committee will conclude its public hearings and state agency budget presentations today.
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