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NCLB Outrages

Report: Schools Fall Short On Funding

Ohanian Comment: Of course it's outrageous that NCLB isn't "fully funded," whatever that means. But I also think it is outrageous to suggest that the only thing standing in the way of poor inner-city kids scoring well on standarized tests is more money in their schools. The problem goes much deeper than that. I believe money in the neighborhoods is the key.

To bring students up to the federal government's academic standards, Connecticut's public schools will need a huge boost in spending, up to $2 billion a year more, says a study being released today.

A coalition of education and municipal officials will set that price tag - an increase of more than a one-third over current spending - in a report that could lead to a radical revision in the way the state pays for its public schools.

The report, prepared by a national school finance consulting firm, will be used to lobby the legislature and could be the basis for a school finance lawsuit. It is similar to studies that have prompted courts in several other states to order school funding increases.

The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding has called for a radical revision of the state's 16-year-old funding formula, contending that schools are being shortchanged as they try to meet the demands of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"If these are the standards for what it takes for children to be educated for the new world economy ... somebody is going to have to fund this," said Hamden Mayor Carl Amento, president of the coalition.

Fifteen years ago, the state paid nearly 46 percent of the cost of running public schools, but that figure dropped to about 38 percent by 2003-04.

The coalition's report, prepared by the Colorado-based firm Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, recommends both minimum spending levels and final spending targets for all of the state's public school districts.

Even to meet a minimum level - based on an analysis of spending in 35 districts that now meet projected No Child Left Behind reading and mathematics standards for 2007-08 - public schools across the state would need an extra $481 million a year, the coalition said.

The coalition will issue its report to Gov. M. Jodi Rell and other state officials today, saying that 145 of the state's 166 school districts come up short of an ultimate recommended funding target while 91 fail to meet even a minimum starting point. Two districts, Hartford and Bridgeport, fall short of the final target by more than $100 million a year, the report said.

"It's a large number, but this has happened in other states, and it shows how far behind we have fallen in some major cities," said Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez, the coalition's vice president.

"It's not just the large cities," he added. "Other communities have been pushed against the wall because of their school budgets."

In Hartford, schools would have to spend $16,720 per pupil to meet the long-range goals of No Child Left Behind, a 38 percent increase over the $12,150 spent per student a year ago, the report said. Manchester would require $13,974 per student and Meriden $14,694 - increases of 43 and 44 percent, respectively.

"The numbers seem very high," said state Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden, co-chairman of the legislature's education committee. Gaffey had not seen the report, but he said, "It sounds like they're shooting for the sun and moon."

The report analyzes school operating budgets but does not include costs such as school transportation or building construction. The state spends roughly $500 million a year on school construction, something Gaffey said must be considered in any discussion of school funding.

The plea for more money for public schools is an annual occurrence before the state legislature. The legislature revised the school aid formula with the introduction of the Education Cost Sharing grant in 1989, but many towns get less than what that formula recommends because of limits imposed under the strain of tight state budgets.

"We know what the problems are. We know there are major inequities" in the formula, Gaffey said.

The final spending target in today's report was established after a review of school needs - staffing levels, pre-kindergarten programs, teacher training and other factors - by a panel of teachers, principals and school administrators from across the state. The panel was asked to design schools that would meet state and federal standards, taking into account the extra cost of running schools with significant enrollments of low-income families, children with disabilities, and non-English speaking students.

About 30 states have done such studies, said Mike Griffith, an analyst with the Education Commission of the States, an agency that monitors state education issues.

Some of the studies have gone nowhere, but others have resulted in significant funding increases. In New York City last year, for example, financial studies led to a court order to spend an additional $5.6 billion a year on the city's public schools.

Connecticut's school funding formula underwent a major change after the state Supreme Court, in the Horton vs. Meskill case in 1977, ordered the state to close a large funding gap between the state's wealthiest and poorest communities.

While many early school finance lawsuits focused on financial equity among school districts, much of the litigation now revolves around whether schools have adequate funding to meet the demands of state and federal testing standards.

— Robert A. Frahm
Hartford Courant


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