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New Haven Register: Woodbridge school board's controversial Open Choice vote provokes backlash

Austin Mirmina, New Haven Register

March 20, 2023 - 2 minutes

The problem between Woodbridge and New Haven stems partly from a vague state statute holding local or regional boards of education financially responsible for the "reasonable costs" of special education instruction. Narrowing that language could make the negotiation process smoother.

"I think the statute could be changed to modify the word 'reasonable' to 'actual' and have some reporting requirements that show and demonstrate that each town is spending that amount on special education services for each child," said Lisa Hammersley of the School + State Finance Project, a nonprofit policy organization focused on ensuring equitable education funding for Connecticut students. "I know that the state Department of Education could lean in on the conversation to provide better guidance as to what 'reasonable' is."

One proposal being considered in the state legislature is House Bill 5003, which would increase funding for Connecticut public schools and reduce disparities between rich and poor districts. The bill would fully fund the state's Education Cost Sharing program by 2025 (as opposed to 2028 under current law) while also covering additional costs for high-need students at magnet and charter schools and within the state's Open Choice initiative.

An analysis from the School + State Finance Project shows that the proposal would result in more than $250 million in additional state funding to 157 Connecticut municipalities, with the majority of the money benefitting districts with large numbers of low-income students. If the bill is approved, New Haven would receive an additional $19.3 million during the 2025 fiscal year, according to the analysis.

Hammersley said the bill also includes higher financial incentives for districts to participate in the Open Choice. Woodbridge currently receives a $3,000 state grant for every student it enrolls through Open Choice. Under H.B. 5003, that amount would jump to $15,134 per Open Choice student, according to Hammersley.

"It's a much larger state grant to support Open Choice students that reflects the fact that students in New Haven and the community have additional needs that the Town of Woodbridge will need to take into account when educating their children," Hammersley said.

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