It’s school budget season, and whether or not you have children in the school system, you should get informed and involved.
According to an analysis by the Connecticut School Finance Project, Danbury Public Schools is the 7th largest district in Connecticut and educates 11,483 students. Of those students, nearly 60 percent are low-income, over 1 in 4 are English Learners and close to 1 in 8 need special education services. Danbury Public Schools spends $12,742 per student, the lowest amount in the state, and spends less than similar districts.
Danbury property taxpayers pay nearly 70 cents of every dollar in the city’s education budget, roughly $8,930 per student.
Through its Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula, the State of Connecticut distributes funding to local public school districts to cover a portion of the education costs. But what appears to be a fair system comes with major glitches.
For instance, the formula is heavily based on where a school is located, and due to the state’s fiscal crisis, the formula cannot be fully funded as it stands (in fact, it has not been fully funded for years).
For example, in fiscal year 2019, Danbury is estimated to receive $32.3 million in ECS funding. But, if the amount based on the ECS formula was fully funded, Danbury would receive an estimated $55.7million in ECS funding —a staggering $23.4 million more than the district is currently scheduled to receive in fiscal year 2019.
So as a result: what happens? A contest between team “Do not Raise My Local Taxes” vs. team “Fully Fund Us” arises in the municipal budget season, and well-intentioned tensions flare.
On one side, you have those who do not want local tax increases, when they see 70 percent of their tax dollars invested in schools instead of in other city services. Many no longer have children in the school system and have already made contributions towards those costs in the past.
On the other team, you have those who advocate for more resources to improve our schools and serve a growing student population that has expanded in part due to city’s ability to attract new businesses and residents. They see growth that is not fully taken into consideration by the state’s funding formula but nevertheless represents our future workforce, our future property owners and our future leaders.
And in the middle, we have the State of Connecticut, deep in its struggle to figure out its financial crisis. The state is looking at the implementation of tolls and levying additional taxes to create more revenue, which will still not make it able to fully fund its own Education Cost Sharing formula.
So what needs to happen? All sides need to see a way to become a part of the same team, one that is responsible with our present resources but has an eye on our future as a unified community during the budget process. One that see all facets of the city’s growth as a positive asset, transforming our city into a large urban center, and is willing to invest to make it one we can all be proud of. A team that realizes a stronger school system leads to overall higher property values, with an increased desire to live and raise a family here.
We must continue to join forces, advocate and fight for fair education funding for all at the state capitol – funding that is based on student learning needs, is predictable, efficient and accessible and takes into consideration the depth and breadth of the different types of diversity in all communities.
But what can you do? Regardless of what team you are on, come to the Community Forum on the School Budget, on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at 6 PM – 8 PM at Rogers Park Middle School (located at 21 Memorial Drive, Danbury, Connecticut 06810). You will be able to learn more about how unfunded mandates, the Connecticut’s Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula and increased enrollment are affecting Danbury Public Schools. Childcare and translation services in Portuguese and in Spanish will also be provided. To register for childcare, please call 203-797-4734.
Out of the forum there may not come a solution, but it could be the start of building “Team Danbury” as one unified front for our city’s future.
The author of this opinion column is Editor Emanuela Palmares, who also serves on the Danbury Board of Education.