June 21, 2006
50% STATE CONTRIBUTION TO LOCAL EDUCATION COSTS
By: Judith Lohman, Chief Analyst
You asked for the origin and history a supposed state “promise” to fund 50% of the cost of elementary and secondary education in the state.
It is often asserted that the state “promised” to fund 50% of the total cost of elementary and secondary education in the state. It appears that the idea that the state made such a pledge comes from a 1979 report by the State Board of Education and an appointed School Finance Advisory Panel that first recommended the Guaranteed Tax Base (GTB) school funding formula. In that report, the board and the panel stated their general support for the goal of increasing state education aid over 10 years to “at least equal total local revenues to support education.” But according to former State Education Department school finance expert Joan Martin, the State Board of Education never elaborated on that general statement and has not adopted any such policy.
Likewise, neither the General Assembly nor the four governors who have served since 1979 have made the 50% goal an explicit part of any state budget or proposed budget. In almost every General Assembly session since the mid-1980s, individual legislators have proposed bills to enact this so-called “50-50 Plan” into law. Although some of these proposals have been given public hearings, none has ever been reported favorably by a legislative committee.
Since 1979, the state share of total expenditures for elementary and secondary education has never reached 50%. It peaked at 45.52% in FY 1990.
50-50 FUNDING PLAN SOURCE
Joan Martin, a State Department of Education school finance expert who worked on school funding formulas and state education grants for many years and who has since retired, told us in 1998 that the supposed state “promise” of 50% state funding for education comes from a January 1979 report of the State Board of Education (SBE) and the Connecticut School Finance Advisory Panel called A Plan for Promoting Equal Educational Opportunity in Connecticut.
The plan was the result of an 18-month study of educational and financial steps the state should take in light of the Connecticut Supreme Court's decision in the Horton v. Meskill case, which declared Connecticut's previous method of financing public education unconstitutional. Following the decision, the SBE appointed a 24-member panel representing the executive and legislative branches of government and statewide organizations to develop a comprehensive long-range plan to reform school funding practices and provide equal educational opportunities. The panel chairman was State Senator Richard F. Schneller and John E. Toffolon of the SBE was the vice-chairman.
The 144-page report contained 17 fiscal recommendations for revising the state's Guaranteed Tax Base (GTB) school funding formula, 15 educational recommendations, nine recommendations for future study, and 17 recommendations for general support. The recommendations for general support concerned issues for which the panel and the SBE did not have enough time and resources to develop specific recommendations but that they considered of “sufficient importance to merit their inclusion” in the plan. They were intended to provide a “general direction or environment” for greater educational equity.
One of the general recommendations was a long-range (10-year) goal of “state aid becoming at least equal to local revenues for the support of total expenditures made by state and local government for elementary and secondary education” (Plan, p. 57). State funding was to equal 50% of total education funding in the aggregate, not 50% of each town's individual education expenditures.
“50-50” SINCE 1979
According to Martin, the SBE never made the 50% funding goal more explicit than the recommendation in the 1979 report and never approved any other specific statement or promise on this issue.
A search of legislative records shows that, since the mid-1980s, bills to enact the 50-50 plan into law have been a regular feature of legislative sessions, with individual legislators introducing one or more bills to explicitly require the state to fund 50% of the total cost of education in the following sessions: 1985 (one bill), 1986 (three bills), 1987 (three bills), 1990 (one bill), 1997 (one bill), 1999 (six bills), 2001 (one bill), and 2003 (one bill). Although some of these bills received public hearings, none was favorably reported out of a committee nor has the 50-50 plan ever been proposed or adopted in any state budget.
Since FY 1980, the state's share of the total cost of elementary and secondary education has fluctuated from 31.7% to 45.5% (see chart).
(Note: State contribution reflects all state spending on behalf of elementary and secondary education, including state grants, bond funds, vocational-technical schools, teachers' retirement contributions, and state unified school districts.)
Source: State Department of Education