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Conn. panel looks at changes to school funding

Governor seeks changes in system

JESSICA HILL/ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILE

Governor Dannel P. Malloy has promised to fix the formula for education funding in Connecticut, which is more than 20 years old and has been criticized as too complicated.

HARTFORD - A panel named by Governor Dannel P. Malloy to study how public school districts share state education money is considering some major changes, including using more accurate data to determine a city or town’s wealth and poverty level and ultimately how much funding is awarded.

The 12-member Education Cost Sharing Task Force is also looking at ways to more equitably fund magnet schools, which are public schools that typically provide a specialized curriculum, according to a list of preliminary recommendations.

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The final recommendations are due this fall.

Other suggestions that have received strong support include excluding students living in college dorms and prison inmates from the population counts when calculating a town’s per-capita income and eliminating or altering provisions in the current funding program that allow school districts to keep their level of grant funding even when their per-student share should be decreasing, if their poverty rate or other factors change.

Roy Occhiogrosso, the Democratic governor’s senior adviser, said Malloy has promised to fix the formula, which is more than 20 years old and has been criticized as having become too complicated over the years. There have also been perennial complaints from municipal leaders that the education funds, currently about $1.9 billion, are not fairly distributed and donot meet the state’s goal of putting rich and poor communities on equal footing.

Critics also say the funding method forces towns to rely too heavily on property taxes because the state has never fulfilled its promise to fund 50 percent of local education. The formula considers enrollment, poverty, and other factors to determine the state’s share of public school funding for districts.

Occhiogrosso said the draft list of recommendations to Malloy represents a promising start and will ultimately be a key part of Malloy’s education reform efforts, which he has promised will be a major issue in the new session of the General Assembly, which begins in February.

“How you pay for education and making sure that is done in a way that is as fair and equitable as possible is critical to reforming education,’’ Occhiogrosso said. “Everyone knows this formula is broken. And unless you fix the formula, you can’t really reform education.’’

The task force is expected to adopt its interim report to the governor Jan. 19. The final set of recommendations is due Oct. 1

The task force is considering 49 possible recommendations, according to the draft. Members recently voted for their preferences. Topping the list was the recommendation to use a more accurate system for calculating a town’s wealth and poverty level. Much of the current data is out of date, such as older census figures.

Other preliminary recommendations that received strong support include: setting aside a portion of the funds for competitive grants to reward school districts that pursue State Department of Education priorities; require more accountability for poorly performing school districts as a condition for higher-funding levels; standardize how school systems track their spending; make funding more coherent and predictable for magnet, charter, and regional vocational-agriculture schools; and establish a goal for the state to reimburse school districts for the full cost of providing special education services.

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