A new web site advocating for a fair education funding formula in Connecticut has gone online. You can visit the site here http://ctschoolfinance.org/ The Data provided comes from the SDE.

Here is a article from the Danbury News Times:

Kids in Connecticut’s neediest school districts are not getting a fair shot at college and careers because the state’s education funding formula is broken, a new non-profit group charges.

The non-profit Connecticut School Finance Project launched a website database this week that shows substantial disparities in per-student spending between schools with low-income students whose English is weak and wealthier, whiter suburban districts that can afford higher property taxes.

“If we expect school districts to provide our kids with equal opportunities, we have to be sure they have sufficient financial resources to do that,” said Katie Roy, the founder of the new non-profit. “It is a question of fairness.”

It is also a question that has vexed politicians for decades. Critics say Hartford has underfunded school districts so badly that the burden has shifted to local taxpayers, who pay more for public education than any state in the country.

What’s new about the non-profit’s numbers is that they are being brought to the public for the first time in an interactive format. The hope is to build a coalition of parents, school board members and community leaders to lobby Hartford for change, Roy said.

The new database comes as a landmark lawsuit against the state on the same issue nears trial in January. And it follows a report last year by the Connecticut Conference of Mayors that found Connecticut was short-changing public school districts $600 million annually.

Locally, the issue has reached a critical mass in Danbury – which has one of the fastest-growing and most diverse school systems in the state, but which is seventh from the bottom in the state in per-student spending at $12,700.

By contrast, the Region 12 School District just a few towns to the north has a shrinking enrollment and a predominately English-speaking student population. That district spends $26,000 to educate each student – the highest figure in the state.

The state average for per-student spending is $15,400 according to the Finance Project, a nonpartisan non-profit that relies on foundation support.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a co-founder of a coalition that is bringing the landmark lawsuit against the state, said students from non-English speaking backgrounds require more resources to educate.

“There is no question about it – if someone shows up in the third grade who has never been in school and can’t write and doesn’t know English it is going to require more resources to bring her up to speed,” said Boughton, a former high school history teacher. “It has reached a critical mass in Danbury, because unlike other districts we are adding students here. And the lack of state aid places more and more burden on the taxpayers.”

Danbury last week convened a call-to-action meeting on the subject with legislators from the city’s state delegation.

A spokesman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy responded that the state has increased funding to districts by a total of $173 million since 2011.

Critics acknowledge as much, but they say the figure is far short of the $2 billion the state promised in 1988, when it set out to correct disparities in per-student spending caused by income inequities from town to town.

At stake is more than the opportunity for students to go on to college, vocational school or careers that pay a living wage. Local leaders are concerned about property owners’ ability to carry increasingly heavy school tax burdens.

“We have a system that a lot of people agree is not working well,” Roy said. “We need to identify feasible and affordable solutions to our school funding challenges.”

What numbers show

To make the case that state public education funding ignores students’ needs, the Connecticut School Finance Project crunched numbers from the last 10 years about enrollment trends, poverty levels, English learners and special education students.

The numbers show a 5.5 percent drop in enrollment across the state – a trend that might suggest less need for state funding if all districts were shrinking. But as educators know in Danbury, Fairfield and Stamford, the trend is the opposite.

Danbury added 1,200 students in 10 years. Fairfield gained 1,350. Stamford grew by 800 students.

Yet there has been no corresponding increase to account for the enrollment jump, Roy said.

Moreover, when it comes to poverty, the number of students eligible for federally subsidized lunches increased 10 percent over the last 10 years, growing from 26 percent of the statewide student population to 37 percent.

Roy, the former CEO of the non-profit Connecticut Council for Education Reform, said children from low-income backgrounds need more support to reach the same results as students from affluent homes.

Yet there is no longer a mechanism in the state Education Cost Sharing formula to trigger extra funds for districts with more low-income students, she said.

Locally, Danbury’s percentage of low-income students rose 19 percent over 10 years, for example. More than half the city’s 11,000 students are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch, the school district says.

Over the last 10 years, English learners rose slightly statewide, according to the Connecticut School Finance Project.

Locally, Danbury saw a 5 percent increase in English learners over 10 years, bringing the percentage of students in the district whose first language is not English to 20 percent.

Although the data is old and the CCRE site does not add projections, Roy said she was confident trends were continuing.

Who pays?

In her years at the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, consulting with low-performing school districts, Roy became concerned about the disparity in state aid from one school district to another.

“What I found is that we don’t have a state school funding system in Connecticut anymore,” Roy said.

The short version of how it got this way: In 1988 the General Assembly pledged $2 billion to help school districts with the least ability to support public education by increasing property taxes. But that Education Cost Sharing formula was never fully funded.

“It was a slow whittling away their (the state’s) responsibility, due primarily to politics and economic factors,” said Boughton, who served one term as a state representative.

“There was a cap on how much we could spend, and that froze us for many years in the 1990s, and then we had a recession,” Boughton said. “Then in 2013 the ECS was thrown out.”

The state now makes fixed-sum payments to school districts. That practice was criticized in the CCM report last year, which said the state had underfunded Bridgeport by more than $37 million, Danbury by more than $31 million and Stamford by nearly $11 million.

No one was more convinced of the need to hold the state government to its funding commitment in 2005 than Dannel P. Malloy, then the mayor of Stamford, who teamed up with Boughton to form the nine-town Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, or CCJEF.

CCJEF sued Connecticut in 2005 for failing to fairly fund public schools and causing harm to “thousands of Connecticut school children by limiting their future ability to take full advantage of the nation’s democratic processes and institutions…”

The suit also charged that the state’s funding policy disproportionally affected minority students, in violation of federal law.

The coalition is not asking for anything except the $2 billion that the state promised, said Lee Erdmann, CCJEF’s executive director.

“It is a huge number, but it comes down to a matter of priorities,” he said.

Malloy, who was elected to a second gubernatorial term in 2014, has said he supports funding the ECS. He has also tried to have the CCJEF lawsuit dismissed.

A Malloy spokesman reached this week said the governor allotted $270 million to schools in 2011 to make up for lost federal funding. That, added to the $173 million in increased funding since 2011, amounts to $443 million he has added in spite of tight state budgets, his office said.

Boughton and other local leaders say they don’t expect the state to make good on decades of broken promises in one year, but they do expect a commitment from the state to pay its fair share.

As a state, local taxpayers support 57 percent of the public education bill each year, or about $5.8 billion. Connecticut pays about 38 percent, or $3.9 billion. The federal government pays less than 5 percent, according to the Connecticut School Finance Project.

Locally, the percentage of property taxes that make up the school budget ranges from 70 percent in Danbury to more than 90 percent in Brookfield, Region 9, Ridgefield, Region 12, and Redding.

Roy said she hopes the website, http://www.ctschoolfinance.org, galvanizes support for reform.

“We hope to build up people’s knowledge about how schools are funded and bring together a group of stakeholders who agree we have a problem,” Roy said.

rryser@newstimes.com; 203-731-3342