Malloy proposes to shift more education costs onto towns

Gov. Dannel Malloy introduced proposals Monday to significantly change how Connecticut funds local education, building on a proposal late last week to bill towns for part of the cost of teacher pensions.

Facing a $3 billion deficit over the next two years, Malloy appears poised to propose a budget that achieves balance without significantly raising state taxes. At the same time, Malloy’s changes to education funding could result in property tax increases in some towns.

Malloy’s proposal has three main components: changing the Education Cost Sharing formula, creating a separate fund for special education and changing the minimum budget requirement for towns.

Citing the recent CCJEF v. Rell ruling, which found that Connecticut’s school funding formula is “irrational,” Malloy proposed revisions to state education funding formula to ensure “greater equity” for towns and cities with higher rates of poverty.

The new ECS formula would “recalibrate” factors used to determine a town’s wealth and measure the town’s poverty level based on the number of students enrolled in Medicaid. It would also use current enrollment numbers to be sure the state is not funding towns for more students than are actually in the school system.

This revised funding formula will direct more of state education funds to towns and cities with higher poverty rates and force wealthier towns to fund more of their own educational needs.

Joe DeLong, director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities claims such proposals are “a violation by the state of its constitutional responsibilities.”

DeLong also points to the CCJEF ruling, in which superior court judge Thomas Moukawsher writes that the state only discusses a “tradition of local control” when the state has to “get itself out of a jam.”

The governor and legislature are looking for ways to close a $1.4 billion deficit this year, while trying to come up with solutions for failing school systems in cities like Hartford and Bridgeport.

The governor’s proposal also makes changes to the minimum budget requirement for municipalities. The MBR does not allow towns to fund their schools any less than the previous year even if enrollment declines.

Under the proposed changes towns that see a decrease in ECS funding will be able to readjust their MBR to reflect the lower state contribution. For towns that see an increase in ECS funding, the MBR will be maintained at 2017 levels.

However, towns will not be able to exclude contributions toward teacher pensions – another proposal that Malloy rolled out on Feb. 3 – which would require municipalities to fund one third of teacher pensions, equivalent to ten percent of the town’s teacher payroll.

This proposal was blasted by DeLong on Friday as a “colossal cost transfer” that will be balanced on the backs of property tax payers.

Malloy also proposed removing special education funds from the ECS and setting up a new Special Education Grant that would begin with $10 million. The ECS grants toward towns would be reduced to account for this separate fund.

The proposed reductions in ECS funds may also increase the local tax burden in municipalities across the state.

Malloy, however, has made a number of proposals that could relieve municipalities of state mandates such as eliminating the requirement that small school districts have a superintendent and increasing the prevailing wage threshold from $500,000 to $1 million.

DeLong says CCM remains committed to working with the governor and the legislature to “help communities grow and prosper.”

But DeLong says it’s necessary to remind the governor and the legislature that the state of Connecticut is ultimately responsible for education. According to Moukawsher’s ruling “the state is responsible for the condition of our schools: Its duty to educate is non-delegable.”

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