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More State Aid Necessary for World-Class Schools

Ester Santana holding pie.

"The pie is too small." That's what Esther Santana, a parent from New Britain, told ECS Task Force members at a public hearing last night in New Haven. She was referring to the limited amount of state education money available that, when split among all Connecticut cities and towns, ends up providing a struggling district like hers with a tiny "slice."

Schools are in financial crisis.  Class sizes are large.  Academic programs are deteriorating.  And resources are slim with teachers digging into their own pockets to buy school supplies.  That’s the essence of what many concerned citizens told members of a state task force studying the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula at a public hearing last night in New Haven.

To dramatize the situation, New Britain parent Esther Santana presented the task force with an apple pie small enough to fit in the palm of her hand.  She told task force members that the state needs a larger pie in order to serve sufficiently sized pieces to cities with struggling schools like New Britain. Santana expressed deep concern that any proposal to send more state money to charter schools would be extremely detrimental.  “Our neighborhood public schools need nourishment.  It’s where the vast majority of kids go to school,” she said.

New Britain resident Merrill Gay agreed with Santana and read from a statement that the New Britain Board of Education passed unanimously, stating its opposition to the idea of “money follows the child.” Gay was a plaintiff in an important education funding case in which the Connecticut Supreme Court declared that all schoolchildren have the right to an adequate education.

Shana Kennedy-Salchow, co-executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement, a largely corporate organization, told task force members that they should provide greater resources to charter schools when they rewrite ECS.  Jennifer Alexander, policy director of the charter school organization, ConnCAN, suggested more state money for charter schools is essential.

Alexander’s perspective and financial calculations were sharply disputed by Jim Finley, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.  He expressed concern about the burden that local taxpayers already bear supporting local public schools.  “The ECS program has never been fully funded and implemented as designed, and, as a result, has paid out billions of dollars less to towns and cities than it would have.  This gap in funding over the years has shifted an undue burden onto local property taxpayers.” Read Finley’s testimony here.

Marilyn Ondrasik, the former executive director  of the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition, told the task force the situation in her city is “dire.” The state needs to provide greater financial resources to local public schools through the state school funding formula, according to Ondrasik.  “Otherwise you are just rearranging the chairs on the Titanic,” she said.

Dr. Philip Streifer, superintendent of the Bristol Public Schools and president of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF), testified on behalf of CCJEF and the Connecticut Association of Urban Superintendents.   He said that 37 percent of school districts did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) this year in Connecticut under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.  “It’s due to financial neglect that stems from a state school funding system that is broken and based on an arbitrarily derived formula.  We want more money and more time to prepare students to become globally competitive graduates,” he said.

The task force will be holding an additional hearing where members of the public can offer comment at 5:00 p.m., Tuesday, October 25, at Clark Lane Middle School in Waterford.

The ECS Task Force was appointed by top state leaders, including Governor Dannel P. Malloy.  CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine represents CEA on the panel.  The charge of the panel is to develop recommendations on possible ways to change how money is divided up by school district. For more information, visit the task force’s website.

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