Governor Malloy today released a budget proposal that would shift significant costs for public education and teacher pensions to cities and towns that are already struggling. In his budget address this afternoon, Malloy described “a broken, disparate system where towns are pitted against one another, constantly fighting for limited state dollars.” If the General Assembly approves his plan, however, most Connecticut cities and towns—137 of them—will actually lose critical state aid and be saddled with one-third of the cost of their teachers’ pensions.
Some municipalities would face cuts in state aid close to $12.9 million (Groton and Milford would be hit hardest), and communities are scrambling to figure out how to cover critical education costs. The governor is asking Connecticut’s cities and towns to contribute $407.8 million in pension costs next fiscal year.
CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg says the governor’s proposed education budget threatens the quality of all our local public schools by dividing schools, parents, and communities into clear winners and losers. While he agrees that the current Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula is inequitable, he stresses that Malloy’s solution does not solve the problem. The governor needs to expand overall state funding by several hundred million dollars.
“We are not coming close to adequate funding,” Waxenberg says. “There’s not enough money in the system now.”
Malloy’s plan will drain state aid from middle class communities—not only from wealthy cities and towns but also those that are average—or below average—on the wealth spectrum.
“That’s unfair to all of us,” Waxenberg says, “but especially our children. We can’t operate in this type of system. All of our children deserve to be winners and have the resources to achieve.”
The state currently underfunds public education by more than $700 million per year. In order to fulfill its constitutional obligation to fully fund public education and provide all children with the resources they need to achieve, Waxenberg says, the state needs to focus on a sustainable revenue stream.
The governor did recognize the state’s obligation to the retired teachers’ healthcare fund as well as the need to reduce the state income tax on teacher pensions.
“We applaud the governor for recognizing the need to continue to fulfill his promise to educators,” says CEA President Sheila Cohen. “Our teachers, who have committed their lives to teaching students—the future of our state—deserve nothing less. Active and retired teachers have always contributed the lion’s share to the healthcare fund, and their contributions have never wavered.”
However, Cohen warns, the governor’s plan to force cities and towns to contribute to teacher pensions must be viewed with extreme caution.
“This plan,” she explains, “could have serious consequences for our students, our families, and our communities.” Squeezed by tighter budgets and cuts to state aid, cities and towns could cut certain classes and other educational programs, initiate teacher layoffs, and face larger class sizes for students.
“This plan could have unintended, long-term consequences for our students,” says Cohen. A similar plan was closely examined and ultimately rejected by legislators more than 20 years ago. The close scrutiny given to that plan, Cohen adds, must be given to the current proposal as well.
“Educators strive every day to do more with less,” says Waxenberg. “They make their classrooms places that welcome all students. They prepare them to reach their full potential and contribute to our society and economy. We expect legislators and policymakers to value and support this vision and invest in public education so that all students can succeed. We urge legislators in the strongest way to protect students and local public schools in every community.”
I am stunned that such a proposal would even be suggested. It certainly doesn’t support public education. As if it isn’t enough that public education is being assaulted on the national level, now it is being undermined in our state if this proposed budget is accepted.