Grappling with Connecticut’s Budget Crisis – Part I: What about Education Funding?

With a $19 billion dollar state budget, Connecticut spends about $2.5 billion dollars a year to support primary and secondary education (Pre-K through 12th grade) in the state’s 169 towns.

The bulk of those funds are distributed directly to towns/school districts through the ECS (Educational Cost Sharing) Formula which was designed to provide Connecticut’s poorer towns with extra funds since they didn’t have the tax base to fully fund their own school systems.

In order to fulfill Connecticut’s Constitutionally mandated requirement to provide all children with equal access to a quality education, Connecticut’s official policy goal for the past 25 years has been to have the state pay for 50% of the total costs associated with funding local schools leaving the cities and towns with the obligation for raising the other 50% through local property taxes.

Following the adoption of the income tax in 1991 the state reached a point in which it was paying about 43% of the total costs. Since then the state’s share has slipped lower and lower. Today the state only covers about 35% of the total cost associated with operating Connecticut’s public education system.  As a result of this underfunding, Connecticut’s level of state and local spending on education has means we’ve dropped to 39th in the country when it comes to our total outlay to help our state’s children acquire the knowledge and skills to succeed.

During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign Dan Malloy (and his Republican opponent) both promised not to make any cuts to the ECS formula. Neither campaign signaled whether the “no cut” pledge applied to the other $600 million the state spends on education costs.

That said, as Malloy Administration faces a nearly $4 billion dollar budget short-fall, it is unlikely that any real savings can be found in the education portion of the budget. For one thing, the new Governor is extremely committed to supporting education and secondly any cuts to state education funding would only translate into a greater burden on local communities and higher local property taxes.

The following highlights where the state’s education dollars are allocated;

  • Education Cost Sharing formula:     $1.9 Billion
  • Adult Education:     $21 Million
  • After School Programs:     $5 Million
  • Bilingual Education:     $2 Million
  • Excess Cost (Special Education):     $120 Million
  • Extended School Hours:     $3 Million
  • Private School Health Services for Pupils:     $5 Million
  • Inter-district Cooperation:     $14 Million
  • Magnet Schools:     $175 Million
  • Private School Transportation:     $4 Million
  • Open Choice Program:     $14 Million
  • Priority School Districts:     $117 Million
  • School Based Health Clinics:     $10 Million
  • School Breakfast Program:     $2 Million
  • Transportation of School Children:     $48 Million
  • Vocational Agriculture:     $5 Million
  • Youth Services Bureaus:     $3 Million

8:39 AM UPDATE —- Perhaps I spoke to soon – CT Mirror has a story today that suggets Malloy is backing off his pledge to not cut funding for local education.  Or perhaps it signals that while he will keep his promise not to cut the ECS forumla he may propose cuts to some of the other state grants to support primary and secondary education.  Here is a link to today’s CTMirror Story http://ctmirror.org/story/9153/malloy-education

After pledging during the campaign that he would maintain state funding for local education, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy backed off a bit Thursday, saying that is “a goal” that he will “try and accommodate.”

“That’s a goal that I have when preparing the budget,” he said during his first press conference after taking office. “There are many goals that I have. We are going to try and accommodate all of them,”

On the campaign trail he was much more definitive.