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Illinois, Connecticut, and Other States Struggle to Maintain Control of Educational Funding

Lawmakers in Connecticut are struggling to find a plan that will allow them to fulfill the constitutional requirement of funding sufficient public education. Meanwhile, school districts in Illinois are waiting for an August 10 grant or looking at potentially putting the new school year on hold. And Florida and New Mexico aren’t much better off, as they join the growing number of states wrestling with the mess of figuring out the best way to execute a winning formula for education funding.

Because lawmakers have been unable to agree on a set plan for the state’s budget, Connecticut governor, Dannel P. Malloy (D) is considering a new plan that would have a drastic impact on schools throughout the state by redistributing funds. Under his plan, school funds would be diverted from wealthier schools to poorer ones. “That may mean that some districts will have to receive less money so that other districts will receive an appropriate amount of money that would honor the constitutional requirement,’’ the governor said at a school meeting press conference.

The proposed solution to a problem that has stemmed from state politicians' failure to close a deficit that’s estimated to pass $5 billion in the next two years, was met with criticism from Malloy’s Republican critics.

Republican senator Toni Boucher said the governor’s plan would only “erode” public education in the state further. “We all understand there are big barriers to success and we all want those school districts to succeed, but there’s a tipping point and I think that has been reached now.’’

School districts around the state are scrambling to prepare for the proposed plan and have delayed hiring non-tenure teachers and put off needed repairs and new supplies.

Governor Bruce Rauner (R) of Illinois has his own hands full with lawmakers and public officials concerned about his recent veto of an education plan that takes aim at Chicago Public Schools.

The governor partially vetoed a bill for funding that takes away a $200 million block grant that the city’s school system has long received. The governor called the move part of a plan to help the state “achieve historic education funding reform that is fair and equitable to all Illinois children." Rauner explained that his reason for the veto against what he called a “bailout,” being that it diverted millions of dollars away from other schools and gave Chicago an “unfair advantage.”

The governor argued against the misbelief that Chicago is the only community in the state with low-income, minority students who use English as a second language. "We have those children all around the state, and they all deserve to be treated fairly," Rauner told The Chicago Tribune.

The governor’s veto was met with criticism by Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel (D) who said the governor’s math was “fuzzy.”

With the first checks for state funding scheduled to be sent to schools August 10, if lawmakers don't agree with the changes or overturn them, the comptroller's office will be unable to send schools the state aid. This could force schools to tap into reserves or suspend classes.

Florida and New Mexico are both grappling with similar issues of how to best reshuffle and distribute educational funding.

The sunshine state since 2004 has had a funding formula in place that takes several pennies from each dollar raised by the state’s 55 school systems and redistributes it to Palm Beach and 11 other districts with a higher cost of living. The plan has resulted in a $1.7 billion shift to more affluent districts with critics like Volusia County School Board member Melody Johnson, calling it a “backwards Robin Hood.”

Governor Rick Scott (R) last year vetoed spending $100,000 in the budget to study the state’s school funding formula, leaving frustrated school district leaders like Johnson further disheartened.

Lawmakers and education advocates in New Mexico are embroiled in a fight for how much more money the state needs to put into its education budget. The state currently has some of the worst rankings in the country for its public school system. A coalition of parents, students, and school districts have filed a suit arguing that the state is “shortchanging” its students and that New Mexico is not meeting its requirement of providing sufficient public education.

Senator John Arthur Smith (D) argued to a judge during testimony on the case that for the state to significantly up its education funding, the budgets for other services such as law enforcement, healthcare, and human services would suffer. Smith said he believed New Mexico was doing an adequate job of funding public schools and that the suit was part of a growing “we don’t have enough” money for public education trend.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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