In written testimony submitted Tuesday to the state legislature’s Education Committee, Mayor Joe Ganim declares “I must tell each of you that for a city like Bridgeport that has suffered decades of massive under-funding of our public schools to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, sitting in that courtroom last September and listening to Judge Moukawsher systematically diagnose everything we have known for years was vindicating.”
Ganim’s written remarks:
I am submitting testimony today regarding Senate Bill 2, “AN ACT CONCERNING THE DEVELOPMENT OF A MORE EQUITABLE EDUCATION COST SHARING GRANT FORMULA” as well as House Bill 7035, “AN ACT IMPLEMENTING THE GOVERNOR’S BUDGET RECOMMENDATIONS CONCERNING EDUCATION”
I thank the members of this committee for taking the time to look at such complex yet crucial issues facing the State of Connecticut.
I must say it seems as if our state has been struggling with equitable and fair education funding for nearly 50 years.
Providing an adequate education for our children is enshrined as a right guaranteed by our state constitution.
Yet, we have local boards of education and everyone would agree we want strong local control of our schools–it’s the best way to ensure that our kids have the best teachers and learning environment.
So–whose responsibility is it to ensure that each of our children is getting an adequate education?
Last fall Judge Moukawsher clearly ruled that ultimately it is the State of Connecticut that has overall responsibility for providing an adequate education for our schoolchildren.
That doesn’t take away the responsibility of local cities and towns and boards of education from making the right choices in how we teach our children, how we design our schools, how much we invest in the right textbooks, what we ask of parents and families, and many factors that play a role in producing well-educated young people.
In Connecticut, the quality of education varies simply based on what zipcode you live in, unfortunately.
Those of us in Connecticut’s urban centers have known for years that this is wrong. And now it has been confirmed by the very thorough decision in the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding case–a decision 12 years in the making.
The over-reliance on locally levied property taxes to pay for schools and the way we have been distributing state school aid is clearly irrational, according to Judge Thomas Moukawsher.
Judge Moukawsher clearly said in his ruling that there is enough money overall–indeed nearly $6 Billion–in state education funding–to adequately educate all 500,000 K-12 students in Connecticut.
It’s not the total amount we are spending those school aid dollars, he said, but HOW we are spending that state education aid that is irrational. Often times, Judge Moukawsher pointed out that school funding decisions made by the General Assembly and the Governor are politically motivated, depending on whose votes are needed to pass a budget or some other piece of legislation.
This is wrong. And now we have a duty and a chance to fix it, focusing our educational investments in the communities that need it most.
I must tell each of you that for a city like Bridgeport that has suffered decades of massive under-funding of our public schools to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, sitting in that courtroom last September and listening to Judge Moukawsher systematically diagnose everything we have known for years was vindicating.
Cities such as Bridgeport do not have the property wealth of our suburban neighbors to be able to spend upwards of $20,000-plus per pupil annually in our school systems.
We struggle to spend about $14,000 per pupil–in a year when our property tax mil rate went up significantly as a result of losing more than $1 Billion in property wealth due to the latest state-mandated revaluation.
Cities are regional centers of employment that shoulder the burdens of the cost of regional health care, transportation, wastewater treatment, and emergency services.
Yet the only means of revenue open to municipalities in Connecticut for years has been the regressive property tax and in cities such as Bridgeport more than half of the property in our community is non-taxable.
Property owned by Hospitals, schools, churches and other nonprofit entities is all tax-exempt. The only way to raise the revenue needed to fund our public schools is through continuously raising mil rates on our taxpayers.
And this makes cities such as Bridgeport non-competitive and repels the type of economic development and business investment that can grow the wealth of communities and provide greater funding for public schools.
We have been locked in a vicious cycle of growing costs and declining resources for our schools, and no one should be surprised that the largest school districts in our state–with the poorest students and very challenged learning environments–struggle to achieve academically what some of our neighboring communities routinely do so much so they make it look easy.
Urban, poor communities have tremendous learning challenges that make that same level of achievement much more difficult to reach than it is for affluent, suburban communities.
One of the biggest factors holding our students back is the amount of parental support and reinforcement of learning at home–which some in more affluent communities might take for granted.
In cities like Bridgeport, many families are lucky to have one committed parent who may not have that much access to her children simply because she is working two and sometimes three jobs to make ends meet.
Schools have to take on much more of a parental role in an urban, impoverished community to fill in gaps faced by these kids when they go home.
It is an enormous challenge faced by our educators and school administrators.
Our children also face trauma stemming from violence in the community, exposure to substance abuse that leads to stresses at home and other issues that get in the way of learning such as higher asthma rates due to mold in sub-standard housing.
Many of the more than 21,000 students in the Bridgeport public schools don’t even have breakfast before they come to school.
So before we can even begin to teach them, we have to feed them a good meal in the morning.
Still, despite these and many other challenges, our teachers, para-professionals and administrators do heroic work educating our children.
We do the best we can with the resources we have. But every year, with our state budget continually in a deficit crisis, we have to make very difficult, heartbreaking decisions about what services we are going to cut for our schoolchildren, or how many teachers we are going to lay off.
None of these decisions have any positive impact on the quality of education in our cities.
It doesn’t have to be this way in Connecticut. And that is what Judge Moukawsher recognized in his landmark court ruling.
Our cities can and should be centers of learning, innovation, creativity and excellence that produce well-educated and motivated eager-to-learn young people who are ready to join the workforce or seek a higher education degree when they graduate high school.
Again, we have enough money invested in public education statewide in Connecticut to make it happen, we just need to focus our investments in the communities that need the most help.
That is why I think Governor Malloy’s proposed budget and how it attempts to focus that investment in our urban centers is a good first step in righting the balance of school funding in Connecticut to a more rational equation.
We recognize, of course, that we are in the early stages of this discussion with all of you and the Governor and that each of your communities has needs for state funding as well.
Our legislative delegation, in cooperation with our school officials and our city budget analysts are taking a very close look at how the new Education Cost Sharing formula was calculated, and working with legislative leadership of both parties to assess the best way to help cities such as Bridgeport pull ourselves up and improve our schools.
We will continue to stay closely engaged in this dialogue over the coming months as we all work together to collectively hammer our a new state budget for the coming fiscal year that takes into account the very difficult financial bind our state is in.
But I would agree with a growing bipartisan coalition that sees that in order for Connecticut to succeed–we must have strong cities that are the engines that power our economy.
That is how we succeeded in the last century becoming one of the strongest manufacturing and innovation powerhouses in the world and that is the only way we succeed moving forward into the information-based economy of the 21st century.
Our urban schools are the most critical player in that future success. We invest in urban schools as much as we should and the entire Connecticut economy wins.
The jobs that can be created with strong urban schools can benefit entire suburban regions leading to sustained greater wealth and prosperity.
So I would urge this committee: as you consider how to fund schools to ensure that our constitutional duty to adequately educate all Connecticut children is fulfilled, let’s use this court ruling to eliminate the massive and irrational disparity in public school funding in our state.
We pledge to do whatever we can to work together with you to solve this problem, and we promise you that a strong investment in educating kids in our cities will pay dividends for our entire state.