Conn. Governor Blasts Republican Education Budget as 'Hot Mess'

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Gov. Dannel P. Malloy blasted the Republican’s education budget Wednesday, calling it a “hot mess” and saying it would reduce education funding to needy districts, roll back educational gains by those districts, jeopardize federal funding, and help out wealthy communities at the expense of poor ones.

“Their proposal shifts critical aid away from those that need it the most and directs it to those school systems that are in a far better position to handle their challenges,” Malloy said.

“How do you justify increasing funding to Salisbury, one of the richest communities in the entire state, by 28 percent?” Malloy asked, referring to total town aid, including education dollars. “How do they send $1.2 million more to Branford? How do they send a million dollars more to Greenwich?”

Malloy’s comments came during a news conference at East Hartford Middle School, which has benefited from the state’s Commissioner’s Network program that provides grants and assistance to low-performing schools.

Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell said the school has shown improvement as a result of the program, with an increase of 2.4 percent in state scores on the English Language Arts test and a reduction in suspension rates.

“We are so proud to share some of East Hartford’s accomplishments through partnership here,” Wentzell said.

Sen. Len Fasano R-North Haven, countered Malloy, calling his assertions inaccurate and “purposely off base” and “self-serving.”

Fasano insisted that the Republican budget would provide towns with at least as much education funding as they are getting now using a formula that takes into account various parameters about the community.

While the Republican budget does not decrease funding to struggling districts in the state’s main education grants—the education cost-sharing fund—Malloy said it eliminates many of the programs he initiated in 2012 in an attempt to improve educational opportunities in low-performing districts.

For instance, Malloy says, it eliminates the Alliance District program. That has provided $150 million in dedicated funding for the state’s lowest performing districts. Instead, Malloy said, that aid would be rolled into the education cost-sharing grant according to a formula rather than being specifically targeted to educational interventions designed to close the achievement gap.

In addition, Malloy said the Republican proposal would eliminate the Priority School District program that provides grants to state’s lowest-performing schools. Under the Democrat’s budget proposal, the schools would have received $19 million in 2019 fiscal year. And he said it eliminates the Commissioner’s Network, also aimed at turning around low performing schools, which would have had $10.9 million in it under the Democrat’s proposal.

Rep. Jeff Currey, D-East Hartford, said East Hartford Middle School and another school in the district have received more than $1 million through the Commissioner’s Network program.

Other programs eliminated in the Republican budget, Malloy said, include a reading assessment program at $2.4 million a year and a $3 million-a-year talent development fund.

Malloy also said the Republicans budget plan would affect the state’s ability to meet federal requirements, jeopardizing more than $100 million in federal Title 1 funds.

“In essence, this undoes much of the landmark legislation that was passed with overwhelmingly bipartisan support in 2012,” Malloy said. “It rolls back the clock on the improvement we have implemented.”

“They are taking apart the stuff that they even voted for,” he added.

Malloy said that, in his own budget proposal, which zeroed out education funding for some better-off communities, he supported “cities and towns like East Hartford who have increasing needs while re-calibrating aid to towns with declining enrollment. … Unfortunately, the Republican budget moves in the opposite direction.”

Fasano said, however, that the Republican proposal does not eliminate Priority School funding, leaving it intact for 2018 and cutting it by 50 percent in 2019.

He said the funding from the other grant programs is all rolled into the education cost-sharing grants, distributed to districts according to a formula that takes into account relevant measures such as poverty and the number of students learning English in a district.

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“The thing I’m trying to say is that every school district gets as much money as they did in ’17, no matter what pot it came from,” Fasano said.

He said that, under the Republican proposal, the funding for Hartford will go up by $21 million over the next two years; the funding for Waterbury will go up $14.3 million and the funding for Middletown would go up $10 million.

“We just rolled all those different programs that were the way to get money to those towns that are having difficulties … into our formula,” he said.

Fasano said he also disagrees that Title 1 funding would be in jeopardy. “Our analysis shows it’s not going to be in jeopardy.”

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