Bill to adjust student financing

Amidst the state budget crisis, a new bill seeks to reform the current system of school funding so that the state education funds would follow the student.

The state legislature held a public hearing last Thursday during which the majority of the 101 advocacy groups, parents and students from local schools, such as Common Ground in New Haven, urged the passing of the bill while the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, a state-wide association of towns, opposed the bill and the American Federation of Teachers asked for a postponment. Senate Bill 1195 proposes a new Education Cost Sharing formula that includes baseline funding that is the same for every student, and additional money based on students’ individual needs, such as financial aid or English learning programs. When students leave one school for another, the funding would go with them.

Because the new model would fund all public schools, including charter and magnet schools, in the same way, according to enrollment, it would increase transparency and efficiency of the system, said Danielle Smith ’06, State Director of the Connecticut Chapter of Black Alliance for Education Options.

“The primary goal of the proposal is to consistently fund all students in all public schools in the state,” said Jessica Bloom, communications and mobilization manager of the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), one of the education reform advocacy groups present at the hearing.

But the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities stood against the bill, claiming that it would not benefit municipalities across the state.

“It would be detrimental to the viability of local schools if the State were to move forward now with a change in the funding formula for education,” noted the organization in its written testimony. Moreover, the organization claimed that this change would also exacerbate local fiscal problems brought by “ever mounting and expensive unfunded education mandates.”

Whereas schools currently receive funding regardless of performance, the new formula — which incorporates the thinking of other states such as Rhode Island — pushes schools to put students first and improve the quality of education to attract more students and consequently more funding, said Jamilah Prince-Stewart ’09, advocacy associate of ConnCAN and a New Haven native. While she was excited about the New Haven Promise, she added that scholarships would amount to nothing if students are not prepared for college.

“The bill makes the parents’ options for educating their students more real, especially for the poor families who cannot afford to move out of districts with failing schools,” said Smith.

Because schools would be allotted funds according to enrollment, good public schools or charter schools could avoid long waiting lists and expand to accommodate the high demand, she added.

The current formula is based on antiquated data from the 2000 census based on a report issued by Connecticut Voices For Children, a group that advocates efficient public investments that benefit local youth.

The report also said that accounting for dorm and prison residents in the population count distorts the town wealth measure, and consequently funding distribution. Cities also receive varying proportions of their fully funded “target” amounts, from a low of 30 percent to a high of 159 percent.

Although Alex Johnston, chief executive officer of ConnCAN, said he recognizes that talk of redistributing funding during these hard financial times is politically challenging, he added that this precise budget crisis calls for a much-needed reform in public school funding.

While the state legislature has not scheduled a vote or more hearings, Gov. Malloy announced a task force to find a way of overhauling the system.

Smith’s organization already has plans for large-scale events that would engage more of the community.

“My organization will hold a slew of parent advocacy trainings in the next six months, building a coalition of parents and students to create pressure from ground up,” said Smith. On campus, Lawrence Lim ’13, chapter president of Students for Education Reform, said that the organization is looking for a way for students to get involved in advocacy as well. In his budget speech in February,

Gov. Malloy’s committee is expected to report back with recommendations on Oct. 1.

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