Thursday, July 01, 2010

With new surplus, state should provide additional funding for urban schools.

The budget decisions of the past two years have been very difficult. In order to close the multi-billion-dollar state budget deficit, I and other legislators cut billions of dollars from the budget - difficult cuts that reduced funding for important services I care about in our state. Even with these cuts, we worked hard to ensure that important public services were maintained.

One of the things that was not cut was state aid for local schools. This is one of the largest items in the state budget, so even modest increases in state aid costs a lot in the state budget. Gov. Rell had produced tens of millions in cuts in state aid - which would have meant large education cuts - so preventing these cuts was a victory that has kept the difficulty of local budgeting from being that much worse.

But, even this year, with massive budge cuts going on, I still fought for changes in education funding that would have increased support for local school districts and, especially for cities like New Britain, avoided the difficulties they presently face. Even though other state legislators, this past year, were reluctant to make the significant changes that I was proposing, the ideas I put forward are worth pursuing when our state has a new governor.

After all these massive budget cuts, it was refreshing to read, today, that State Comptroller Nancy Wyman announced that our work to cut the budget and some rebounding in the economy have resulted in a state budget surplus that has risen to $242.9 million. I certainly would agree that this does not change caution and discipline we need to maintain balance in the state budget, since there are still deficits projected for future years.

However, local school budgets are badly hurting right now - and things are especially harsh in New Britain, where years of neglect by City Hall left the local schools under already tenuous conditions even in the good times. This neglect has made a situation that, in these difficult times, is stressful for many communities an absolute disaster in New Britain.

New Britain City Hall has a responsibility, now, to act to ameliorate the larger class sizes that are the result if its years of neglect, and whatever is done on the state level to make things easier does not relieve New Britain City Hall of that responsibility. However, with the growing state surplus for the year just ending, I would like, once again, to open up the question of what the state might be able to do to help.

That is why I am proposing that the state take a small amount of this past year's budget surplus to increase the Priority School District grant that would help schools in communities like New Britain.

I know that some politicians in our state might respond to my call by saying something like, "There goes a Democrat, wanting to spend again as soon as there's a dime of surplus." But, I would challenge anyone inclined to say that to look at the situation in the New Britain schools. Granted, the City of New Britain could have, should have and still can do more, but - as I have always advocated - as much funding as the state can provide helps maintain the quality of education in New Britain schools.

While the real education funding victory these past two years was, indeed, shielding state Educational Cost Sharing grant funding from cuts, I will not give up in advocating for an increase - especially when it can make such a difference here and now.

I hope that my colleagues in the legislature will give strong consideration to returning to special session to take up my proposal.