Amid a state fiscal crisis and advocacy groups’ cries for education reform, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced a $152 million increase in state aid to Connecticut public schools at a Tuesday press conference.
The money, which will come in the form of state Education Cost Sharing, or ECS, grants, will bolster teaching programs in New Haven and 29 other underperforming Alliance Districts, with smaller funding increases for other municipalities. Malloy’s announcement preceded today’s unveiling of his proposal for the state’s next two-year budget that will address what the Office of Fiscal Analysis has described as over $2 billion in projected deficits. State House Republicans questioned the fiscal expediency of increasing education funding as Connecticut attempts to recover from a bond rating downgrade and the largest single tax increase in state history that began this fiscal year, said Republicans’ spokesman Patrick O’Neill.
“This funding structure will ensure that we continue to pursue our goal of helping turn around struggling schools, allowing successful ones to keep thriving and better preparing students to move onto high school, college and the workforce,” Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman said in a Tuesday press release.
Dianne Kaplan deVries, project director of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, said her advocacy group regarded the funding increases as a “very small amount of money in the scheme of school district budgets,” with only a few districts seeing funding percentage increases in the double digits.
According to a summary of Malloy’s proposed changes in ECS funding, New Haven Public Schools will receive a 2.26 percent increase in funding in the next fiscal year and a 4.52 percent increase in the following year, with total additional aid amounting to just under $10 million. New Haven mayoral candidate Gary Holder-Winfield, who currently represents the Elm City as a Democratic state representative, said he supports Malloy’s proposal as a “move in the right direction,” but expressed concern about its implementation given Connecticut’s budget shortfalls.
Malloy’s proposal aims to bolster teacher evaluation and support, expand implementation of the Common Core State Standards and assist the turnaround of underperforming schools, building on a landmark education reform package the state signed into law in May 2012 that will increase preschool funding, evaluate schools based on standardized testing, implement teacher preparation programs, scale back controversial teacher evaluations and boost funding for charter schools. Indeed, Malloy identified education as a top budget priority in addition to workforce development and job attraction during Tuesday’s press conference, following up on rhetoric from his January State of the State address.
“When it comes to public education, we can’t keep doing what we’ve always done and hope for better results,” Malloy said in his January address.
While Malloy dubbed 2012 the year of education reform, he cut education funding by $19.9 million in December to eliminate a midyear budget deficit, halting the implementation of reforms. Zak Newman ’12, former president of the Yale Democrats, said Malloy’s move to restore education funds after cuts he described as contentious represents a “showing of good faith” that will bring “education back to the forefront of the conversation.”
Kaplan deVries said she was similarly pleased to see education funding prioritized.
“For five years, we have been level-funded,” Kaplan deVries said. “We cannot continue this way.”
ECS funding increases were unveiled on the heels of two other major proposals for state education reform last month. The Connecticut General Assembly established a bipartisan task force on gun violence prevention and children’s safety, which will address security and mental health in public schools in response to last December’s shootings at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary. Malloy also announced a $1.5 billion investment in the University of Connecticut to support its expansion, particularly in research programs.
O’Neill, however, said he questioned whether these costly measures could fit into a larger budget scheme.
Malloy proposed school funding increases to 117 municipalities, while maintaining level funding for remaining cities and towns.