When the Regular Legislative Session convenes on February 5, I hope that members of the Education Committee will consider putting in place rules to guide the spending of state Open Choice grant money — about $11 million each year – by local school districts.
That’s not to question the value of the program, or to say that the Open Choice program — which helps fund urban students to attend public schools in nearby suburban towns, and funds suburban and rural students to attend public schools in a nearby city — comes at an unreasonable cost.
The grant money, which pays participating districts between $3,000 and $6,000 for each child enrolled, amounts to far less than the per-pupil spending in 2018 for the 13 participating districts, which can be as little as $13,732 in Ellington or much as $22,218 in East Windsor.
And yet, in an era of tight budgets it was somewhat painful to review records of the spending on the local level in a few districts, and to hear what John Maloney, a former principal and superintendent in Cromwell, had to say about the program, which he described as a “huge slush fund,” for school administrators.
His words rang true — though that’s not to say the money wasn’t also devoted to worthwhile expenses. Frankly, the records of the spending are often so vague, it’s hard to tell, for example, whether frequent payments to school employees, on top of negotiated contracts, are legitimate or not. That’s a problem we intend to consider further in districts across southeastern Connecticut.
What’s clear is that the Open Choice funds — which total as much as a half-a-million dollars for Portland and Cromwell, for example — lack the oversight that is expected of the public’s money.
That should not stand.