NORWALK, Conn. – Enraged state legislators in Norwalk and Stamford, who say their school systems are being short-changed in state education funding, are demanding changes in the way Hartford doles out the money.
They say a change made by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in the state's complex Educational Cost Sharing formula — which relies heavily on a community’s property values to determine funding — leaves the two cities far short of amounts provided to school districts of comparable size in Fairfield County and the state.
Led by House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, the lawmakers want the formula to better reflect their communities’ economic status and educational needs.
“The best evidence that the ECS formula is unfair is that a city like Norwalk can be considered affluent, despite having been classified by the state as a distressed municipality,” said Cafero. “We are also currently classified as a high priority (low-performing) school district by the state.
“There is an urgent need to change the formula to reflect a city’s median income to make it fairer to cities like Norwalk and Stamford,” said Cafero, who appeared last week before the legislature’s Education Committee, which is holding public hearings on education reform.
“Our (Republican) caucus is working on a new formula to present to the legislature within the next two weeks,” Cafero said.
Democrats in the two communities are also concerned.
“The formula penalizes Stamford and Norwalk. We have a very high student population in Stamford, about 15,000, and large pockets of poor people who rent and live in multiple-unit dwellings,” said state Rep. Patricia Billie-Miller, D-Stamford, a member of the legislature’s Education Committee.
“Yet our ECS funding is far lower than similar cities because of some high property values,” said Miller. “We are definitely getting the short end of the stick compared to cities like Bridgeport, Danbury and New Haven. The formula has to be changed to make it more equitable so we get state funding we need to provide quality education to all of our students.”
That’s a battle also being waged by Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Jack Chiaramonte. In testimony to the legislature’s Education Committee last week, he said the funding provided to Norwalk was “an insult.”
Chiaramonte pointed out that under the current formula, Norwalk and Stamford are slated to receive less than $9 million in ECS funding in fiscal 2012-13. But Danbury, a similarly sized city, will receive more than $25 million.
“We are very diverse, blue-collar communities, but Norwalk and Stamford are being treated like crabapples … and I told that to the committee,” said Chiaramonte. “The short-changing of Norwalk in the distribution of state funding to our public schools has long been a scandal, in my opinion.
"Norwalk is treated like wealthier towns such as Darien and Westport, when it is obvious, we are not," he said. "Even other cities that are wealthier than Norwalk, but with fewer students, get more state funding than we do.”
State Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, whose district also includes part of Norwalk and who serves on the legislature’s Education Committee, said the ECS formula takes many factors into account, including a town's wealth, poverty levels and student needs. But “it has serious flaws," she said.
“What distinguishes Norwalk and Stamford — not only regionally but also pretty much on the state level — is the disparity between high property values and other measures of town wealth (like lower median household income), coupled with the characteristics that make our cities much like Connecticut’s other large cities."