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Gov. Malloy's Plan to Flat-Fund Education Worries Top School Administrator

Chion Wolf
Gov. Dannel Malloy in a WNPR file photo.
Critics have derided the grant process as unfair and even unconstitutional.

It's often said that the way Connecticut pays for public schools is one of the strangest and most complicated in the country. There have been lawsuits, task forces, and now, once again, the governor has said that he wants to give school districts the same slice of the pie they got this year. 

Joe Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said that he's happy the governor doesn't want to cut spending, but that education simply needs more.

"What this will result in is less of an educational program being given to the children of Connecticut, and that's a shame," Cirasuolo said.  

The Education Cost Sharing grant, or ECS, is used to fill in funding gaps with state money that local districts can't fulfill with property tax revenue. However, its implementation has been plagued with lawsuits and controversy over equitable distribution of money among various racial and socio-economic groups. 

Superintendent Cirasuolo said he is also worried that the state's plan to keep ECS funding flat would lead to more pressure on districts to fund special education without extra money from the state. Special education costs continue to rise across the nation, and the General Assembly set up a working group last year to look at how to tackle this complex problem. 

The state has given roughly the same amount of money to each school district since 2007. Some of the poorest performing districts have gotten more cash, but this came with some strings attached, such as filling out complex grant applications and being limited to creating only state-approved programs. 

The ECS process was developed on the heels of a 1977 Connecticut Supreme Court case that required school funding be equitably distributed so that districts with the highest property values didn't get the most money for schools. A later lawsuit found that state ECS money was disproportionately given to white school districts. A current suit -- the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell -- is also examining whether ECS money is still being inequitably distributed. 

Critics have derided the grant process as unfair and even unconstitutional, and attempts to fix the process have ended in stalemates.  

According to Cirasuolo, this flat funding has led to increased class sizes across the state over the last decade, as well as fewer after-school programs.

David finds and tells stories about education and learning for WNPR radio and its website. He also teaches journalism and media literacy to high school students, and he starts the year with the lesson: “Conflicts of interest: Real or perceived? Both matter.” He thinks he has a sense of humor, and he also finds writing in the third person awkward, but he does it anyway.

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