HARTFORD — The state legislature released a draft budget on Tuesday that includes less than half of a requested $357 million increase in school funding that many districts had planned to use to plug budget shortfalls left as federal COVID aid is depleted.
In February, legislators and advocates pushed for $275 million to speed up the implementation of a new funding formula that will increase the amount of money given to many of the state’s poorest districts. The additional money, meant to come from a surplus accrued by a change in the state’s fiscal policy, would fully fund the new formula by 2025.
Since then, updated enrollment data raised the amount needed to fully fund the formula to $357.5 million. About $163 million of this funding would be directed to public schools, $22 million to charter schools and $53.5 million to magnet schools, with the remaining money going to vocational agriculture and open choice programs.
The legislature’s proposed budget offers to fund just $150 million of this total.
State Rep. Jeff Currey, D-East Hartford, the chair of the Education Committee, said that money would go toward increasing funding for schools across the state, although he did not know how it would be divided up.
“Given that it is not nearly enough to cover the entire projected cost for that [bill], this is a starting point for us to build off of crafting policies to ensure that we are moving towards equitably funding all public schools, using the same formula in the same manner,” Currey said.
The budget also includes $19.7 million to continue funding towns that were scheduled to see a decrease in their state funding over the next two years, and an increase of $7.9 million in state funding for public schools based on updated enrollment numbers.
Daniel Pearson, executive director of Educators For Excellence, which represents teachers in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven, said the lack of assurance of continued funding after federal COVID aid runs out has caused districts to hesitate to use the funds to hire personnel they need.
“There’s only so many one-time costs you can do in our highest-need districts. They were under-resourced and understaffed for a long time,” Pearson said.
He added that the legislature needed to set aside the additional funding this year, while districts still had a chance to put some of those federal funds toward hiring teachers. The districts that used the money for tutoring and mental health support services need to have enough money to keep those positions in the district, he said.
“In order to maintain the success that we are seeing, we need to be able to fully fund and make sure that we fully staff these positions and make it a permanent part of education, because if not, we’re going to go right back to where we were before,” Pearson said.
In February, a panel of superintendents and charter and magnet school directors came before the legislature to speak in favor of the increased funding. Stamford Superintendent Tamu Lucero told legislators that her the district had used the money to fund over 100 positions in the school budget, and Kate Ericson, CEO of LEARN, which operates four magnet schools in Eastern Connecticut, said that her schools were currently running at a deficit.
Union leaders also criticized the legislature’s budget. Mia Comulada Breuler, a counselor at Wilbur Cross High School and executive secretary for the New Haven Federation of Teachers, said that the Wilbur Cross building is overcrowded and underfunded. She also said one in four students there are learning English as a second language, but that the programs were not being implemented properly because of a lack of staff and resources.
“Our state is sitting on a multibillion dollar surplus and an overflowing rainy day fund that should be mobilized for equity. If we improve the working conditions in city schools, teachers will stay and students will thrive,” Breuler said. “Urban educators know how to care for and engage our young people … but we can’t fully implement what needs to happen with our current lack of equitable funding.”
The Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, declined to offer comment on Tuesday.