Meriden lawmakers host school spending forum
MERIDEN — As municipalities work on local school budgets, State Representatives Hilda Santiago, Cathy Abercrombie and Michael D. Quinn hosted a virtual forum on education funding.
This week’s event featured a presentation by Erika Haynes, director of community engagement for the School and State Finance Project, an organization that seeks to “increase awareness of Connecticut’s education finance system and the need for an equitable and unified funding formula that treats all students fairly. and strengthens schools and communities.
Haynes explained that the state provides about $4.5 billion to local school districts, with additional funds coming from federal and local sources.
In Meriden, spending per student is lower than in surrounding communities, according to a comparison presented by Haynes. Combining federal, state and local dollars, Meriden has a per-student expenditure of $14,041, behind Middletown at $19,648, Hamden at $20,172 and Bristol at $15,936. Around 76.5% of Meriden students are considered low income, compared to 49.7% in Middletown, 48.9% in Hamden and 53.9% in Bristol.
“It’s important because when students come from an economically disadvantaged environment, they have different needs than students who don’t come from that environment,” Haynes said. “At the end of the day, there really is a bigger investment that needs to be made for students who come from this environment.”
About 16.8% of Meriden students learn English; 3.9% in Middletown, 6.3% in Hamden and 5.3% in Bristol. Students with disabilities or with unique learning needs make up 21% of Meriden’s student population, compared to 14.6% in Middletown, 18.3% in Hamden and 20.4% in Bristol. Meriden also has the highest number of students who identify as Black, Indigenous, or of Color (BIPOC), at 73.6%. Middletown students in this category make up 54.5% of the total, compared to 66% in Hamden and 46.3% in Bristol.
All of these numbers play a role in the amount spent on education in each city.
“Meriden invests more than the state average in education and educational services,” Haynes noted.
Before explaining how the money gets to schools in Meriden, she talked about the role of wealth and property taxes in school districts.
“One of the most fundamentally flawed parts of the education funding system is how we rely on local property taxes,” she said.
Haynes believes that some wealthier communities don’t have to “work as hard” to fund education. She noted that some residents of wealthier communities pay a lower amount in property taxes, even though their properties are worth more.
“It costs a lot of money to be poor in communities,” she said.
Meriden, like other school districts, receives state education funding based on the education cost-sharing formula, starting with a base amount of $11,525, which is the cost to educate a student without additional learning needs, according to the Connecticut General Assembly, she mentioned. Funding for ECS goes from the state to the municipalities, who decide how much to invest in education, and then the funds flow to schools, she said.
Some factors that impact ECS funding are the number of students in a municipality, the number of economically disadvantaged students, and the number of students learning English.
The city’s education budget also relies on property taxes. Cities and towns must make up the difference between what their local public school system receives from state and federal sources and the budget of the local public school district.
Haynes encouraged the public to take a look at the city’s education budget. The current year’s budget is available at tinyurl.com/2bhe97mj.
She also encouraged residents to attend school board meetings and share their priorities with legislators and the school board.
During the meeting, there was an opportunity for comments and questions.
Santiago said she doesn’t necessarily agree with the organization using the term BIPOC because it doesn’t separate the Hispanic and Latino population, “which is very large in the city of Meriden.”
“It’s something we’re addressing in the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus at the state level, because it seems like the real numbers aren’t being seen there,” she said.
For more information on the Schools and State Finance Project, visit https://ctschoolfinance.org.
Contact journalist Karla Santos at [email protected]