Call it devastating, draconian or simply a vicious attack on Connecticut’s children, parents, educators and public schools, the governor who has consistently worked to undermine and privatize public education, since taking office in 2011, has now proposed a new state budget that destroys Connecticut’s already failing constitutional requirement to adequately fund its public schools.
In an effort to avoid raising state taxpayers and maintain the state’s system of coddling the rich from paying their fair share income taxes, Governor Dannel Malloy has called for shifting $407 million in teacher retirement payments to cities and towns in the first year of his proposed budget, an amount that would increase to $420.9 million in the second year of the biannual budget plan.
In addition, rather than appropriately fund Connecticut’s education grants, Malloy’s budget plan seeks to redirect existing state aid for public schools to Connecticut’s poorer towns by slashing grants to wealthier and middle income communities.
Overall, 31 Connecticut communities would see an increase in aid while 138 towns would get less state funds, with many towns getting significantly less state education funding.
Making the situation far worse, Malloy’s budget plan allows most towns to redirect what education aid they will receive away from their public schools. Rather than requiring towns to maintain their school budgets, Connecticut communities could use what aid they receive to pay for non-education expenditures.
Together these two developments will produce devastating cuts to education programs across Connecticut.
In his effort to pinpoint which communities win and which lose, Malloy is also proposing a significant change to the way in which poverty is defined, a factor that drives how much money towns get under Connecticut’s education formulas.
Presently, poverty is based on the number of students who qualify for free or reduced-priced meals in each community. But Malloy’s proposal would replace that system with the number of people who participate in the state’s health insurance plan for children, called Husky A.
The system appears to be designed to help Hartford and a handful of other towns, but raises significant equity issues. Daniel Long, an expert with Connecticut Voices for children explained,
“The concern is that you would underestimate poverty.”
Speaking with Long, the CT Mirror added,
“Long said that in other states that have shifted to using Medicaid to measure poverty, ‘it was used as a tool to lower who is counted.’ By using the number who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, the state is ‘erring on the side of providing that additional aid.’”
When examining the list of “winners and losers” in Malloy’s plan, the governor’s strategy becomes evident. The CT Mirror notes,
Hartford, which is facing the possibility of insolvency, is one of the biggest winners in the governor’s proposed budget. Hartford stands to gain $38.1 million in state aid next year, a 17 percent increase. Nearly $12.2 million of that would come from education grants, though it will be up to Bronin and his City Council to decide whether to send it to the struggling city schools.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, Malloy’s former legal counsel, was the Greenwich native who moved to Hartford and was elected to the city’s top executive position last year.
Meanwhile, opposition to Malloy’s plan was swift with many towns announcing that his proposal would lead to massive cuts to public schools and large property tax increases in the majority of Connecticut communities.
In addition, a spokesperson for The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education, the plaintiffs in the CCJEF V. Rell school funding lawsuit condemned Malloy’s plan for moving the state in exactly the wrong direction when it comes to properly funding Connecticut’s public schools.
“These proposed new cuts in state educational support underscore the need for judicial action to ensure that state government meets and does not retreat from its state constitutional responsibilities,” said James J. Finley, principal consultant to CCJEF and an expert witness in the case.
While Malloy has claimed that his plan was designed to take from the rich and give to the poor, the state’s middle income communities are among the hardest hit by Malloy’s funding scheme.
For example, Groton would lose $14.1 million in state aid and Milford would lose $12.1 million. Other towns hit hard by Malloy’s budget plan include Wallingford, Glastonbury and Fairfield, but dozens of towns would face cuts in state aid that were such that it would lead to massive cuts in local school programs and major property tax increases.
As the lobbyist for Connecticut’s small towns decried,
“The governor’s proposed changes to ECS and special education funding, coupled with his proposal to require towns to pick up one-third of the cost of teacher pension costs, will make it impossible for small towns to fund education without staggering increases in local property taxes.”