A ruling by a state judge ordering Connecticut to overhaul public-school funding has sent chills through some suburban and rural districts, where leaders fear they will lose money from Hartford if the order is carried out.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled Wednesday that the state’s public school funding system violated the state constitution, and he ordered the state to design a new method. The ruling followed a 2005 lawsuit against the state that sought to address funding disparities between low-income and well-off school districts.
The state hasn’t said whether it would appeal.
Connecticut’s largest cities have cheered the ruling. But if the state is forced to comply with it, some suburbs worry about a shift of state support from them to larger districts that are struggling financially.
“Most of the small towns have not seen any significant increase in education funding for more than a decade,” said Elizabeth Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, which represents 139 small municipalities in the state. “So we are concerned this is going to result in further reductions to education funding.”
If that happens, some towns would be forced to raise their property taxes to make up the difference in state dollars, Ms. Gara said.
James Finley, principal consultant for Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, one of the plaintiffs in the 2005 lawsuit, said reduced funding was a legitimate concern for suburban communities. But these suburban communities are well represented in the state Legislature, which would create the new funding system, he said.
“If the process delivers a formula that is responsive to student need, town wealth and a variety of other factors, we think suburban towns will be treated fairly,” Mr. Finley said.
Jayme Stevenson, first selectman of Darien, said she welcomed efforts to raise the educational achievements of all students in the state.
“Clearly the big city mayors considered it a big win for the urban centers, but I don’t really know what it means for the town of Darien,” she said.
Ms. Stevenson said the state already had cut school funding for Darien, and the town had been bracing for future cuts as the state contends with budget problems. The town had expected to get $1.62 million from the state, but will receive $775,533 for the fiscal year that began in July, she said. The Darien school budget for the current fiscal year is $93.85 million.
“Were we to lose the small amount of education funding that we get right now, we will either be looking at raising our property taxes or we will be looking at additional spending cuts,” Ms. Stevenson said.
In Greenwich, the town expects to get $1.45 million from the state this fiscal year compared with $3.12 million in the previous year, said Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei.
“It will have an impact” if the town loses that money, Mr. Tesei said, especially considering Greenwich’s growing pension and health care liabilities.
Greenwich’s school budget for the current fiscal year is $150 million.
Preston Green, professor of urban education at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, said typically when other states have been ordered to rework their public school funding system, every district gets more money, reducing the potential for political conflicts.
But the state also could recommend a new funding system under which urban districts get money at the expense of suburban districts, Mr. Green said.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, a Republican, said he understood the suburbs’ fears, but that a new funding formula could include minimum payments for towns to limit any potential adverse impact for those municipalities.
“I think there are other ways to achieve the goal of the judge’s decision,” said Mr. Fasano, who added that he thought the state should appeal the order.
Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, urged the state not to appeal and to start working to develop a new funding system.
Mr. DeLong said a new system would give school districts predictability in how much education funding they would get every year.
“There are obviously some districts that could see less and some could see more,” Mr. DeLong said. “But again if you have the stability and predictability in the funding system, our districts find ways to manage those things.”
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Source: The Wall Street Journal
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