Gov. Ned Lamont has released budget revisions that he said amounted to a $402.5-million investment in schools, but not all are pleased with the changes.
The Connecticut General Assembly will hear public testimony Thursday afternoon on the schools budget, but education groups and officials are pointing to what they say are omissions or problems with the governor’s proposal.
The proposed budget includes $26.2 million toward school choice seats and transportation costs as part of the Sheff v. O’Neill school desegregation settlement announced last month, and continues a multiyear state plan to more equitably fund local districts through the Education Cost Sharing grant, according to officials.
Other initiatives were funded through the federal Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund, including $90 million to help schools tackle air quality improvements — an old problem exacerbated by an airborne pandemic and climate change — plus support for dual enrollment, summer enrichment, the American School for the Deaf, and FAFSA completion.
But enrollment changes and proposed revisions to the state grant program could result in $6.2 million less in funding next fiscal year compared to what the biennial budget has currently appropriated, according to the School and State Finance Project, a nonpartisan policy organization.
“The changes just continue to kick the can down the road,” said Michael Morton, deputy executive director of communications and operations.
The proposed funding would still add approximately $39 million dollars compared to this year, but disproportionately impact school districts that are waiting for increased state assistance once the grant program fully kicks in. That includes Bridgeport, where the schools would receive $1.5 million less than previously expected.
“This is the second time in two years that Gov. Lamont has tried to cut expected education funding to the state’s largest majority Black and brown cities,” said Joseph Sokolovic, the chair of the Bridgeport Board of Education finance committee.
“For Bridgeport and underfunded communities across the state, they’re going to continue to see challenges in meeting the needs of their students without a fully funded ECS formula,” Morton said.
The governor’s office did not return a request for comment.
Other education groups reiterated these points and said the proposal falls short of adequately funding the city’s neediest school districts.
“There is a severe racial funding gap in Connecticut schools, and the consequences of this gap have only been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Daniel Pearson, state director of Educators for Excellence-Connecticut, whose mission is to highlight teacher perspectives in education decisions. “We are disappointed to see that Governor Lamont’s proposed budget does not do enough to mitigate these issues.”
“Additionally, we have had unprecedented levels of staffing shortages in our schools impacting both student achievement and educator well-being,” Pearson said. “Any education planning or programming that comes out of this legislature is insufficient without the staff to implement the programs.”
Subira Gordon, executive director of the education advocacy group ConnCAN, a pro-charter organization, said the governor’s proposed budget “missed the mark” and made no positive changes to the Education Cost Sharing formula.
“Connecticut has the worst opportunity gaps in the country, and this budget does nothing to fix that issue. Every year we fail to act is another year where thousands of kids get left behind,” Gordon said. “Enough is enough. We owe it to our kids who have struggled mightily prior to and during the pandemic. It starts with funding, teacher quality, school improvement, and innovation.”
Gordon suggested that relying on federal funding and selective open choice seats through Sheff will do little to solve structural problems in the state’s education funding.
The executive director and others nodded toward the public hearing process for the governor and legislators to hear from Connecticut families and teachers and respond to their needs.