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Hartford Courant: Connecticut students deserve fair school funding

Katie Roy, School + State Finance Project

October 06, 2015 - 3 minutes

How does Connecticut fund its public schools?

Many people in Connecticut can't answer this question. This is because the state's school finance system defies logic. Today's school funding system was adopted by the legislature more than three decades ago. Since then, it has been altered and changed so many times it no longer addresses the problems of inequity it was created to solve.

Connecticut uses more than 10 different funding formulas to distribute resources to public schools. These formulas have little relationship to the needs of students. The result is a school finance system that is unfair to students, schools and communities.

The current system is best explained by looking at how it impacts an individual student. A hypothetical fifth-grader who lives in Bridgeport has the option of attending several different public schools in the city. Some of these options include Bridgeport public schools, Park City Prep Charter School or C.E.S. Six to Six Interdistrict Magnet School. If that student attends a Bridgeport public school, the district will receive $13,883 from combined local, state and federal sources to educate the pupil. If the student chooses to attend Park City Prep Charter School, the school will receive $12,963. And, if the student goes to the magnet school, C.E.S. will get $11,091 for her education. Additionally, if the student's family moves to nearby Fairfield and chooses the neighborhood school, Fairfield public schools will receive $15,187 for that student.

In each case, it's the same student with the same needs, but each school district would receive a different amount of funding to educate the student because of Connecticut's illogical and unfair school finance system. Instead of receiving funding based on the needs of the students they serve, the amount of money a Connecticut public school receives primarily depends on the town in which the school is located and the type of school that it is (e.g. traditional district, magnet, charter, agriscience program, etc.).

This problem persists when we look at similar neighboring local school districts. For example, students attending a Milford public school would be funded at a level of $16,937. If, however, the students move just a few blocks away to either Orange or West Haven, they would be funded at entirely different levels ($15,755 for Orange public schools and $12,452 for West Haven public schools).

The amount of resources a student receives should not be determined by where they live or what type of school they attend. Connecticut deserves a school funding system that creates a fair playing field where learning needs are met and each student has the opportunity to succeed.

For far too long, Connecticut has attempted to put band aids on a flawed system that has left many districts struggling to provide their students with the resources they need. We cannot create an equitable finance system through block grants and temporary, inconsistent fixes. Instead, Connecticut needs real, comprehensive change to the way it distributes funds to public schools across the state. Connecticut needs a fair finance system that puts the needs of students and communities first.

To truly begin to address our state's education funding challenges, however, we must first understand the effects of our current system and what needs to be fixed. The path to building the school funding system Connecticut's students and communities need and deserve must begin with accurate, nonpartisan data, an understanding of the current system's complexities and an appreciation for the individual learning needs of students across the state. Knowledge is power in any policy issue, but for education funding, it is the key to preventing Connecticut from continuing down a road of illogical, inconsistent and ineffective formulas.

School finance affects every student, family, school, and community in our state. It's time we all knew how Connecticut funds its schools, and realize our students and our state deserve better.

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