Location:
PUBLIC EMPLOYEES - STATE - RETIREMENT;
Scope:
Connecticut laws/regulations; Court Cases;

OLR Research Report


October 14, 2010

 

2010-R-0400

OLR BACKGROUNDER: FUNDING FOR CHARTER SCHOOLS, THE OPEN CHOICE PROGRAM, AND REGIONAL AGRICULTURAL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY CENTERS

By: Judith Lohman, Assistant Director

Although, in general, students are required to attend school in the school district where they live, the state provides several voluntary programs for students from different districts to attend school together. These interdistrict programs are wholly or partly funded by the state.

This report explains the funding mechanisms for three major state-funded interdistrict education programs: charter schools, the Open Choice Program, and regional agricultural science and technology centers. It partially updates our 2007 report on this topic (2007-R-0222). Funding formulas and mechanisms for interdistrict magnet schools are described in a companion report (2010-R-0399).

CHARTER SCHOOLS

Connecticut law defines a charter school as a nonsectarian public school organized as a nonprofit corporation and operated independently of a local or regional board of education. The State Board of Education (SBE) grants and renews the charters, usually for five years and, as part of the charter, may waive certain statutory requirements applicable to other public schools. A charter school may enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 in accordance with its charter. Charter schools are open to all students, including special education students, though they may limit the geographic areas from which students may attend. If a school has more applicants than spaces, it must admit students through a random lottery. There are currently 18 charter schools operating in Connecticut, with a total enrollment of 5,134 students.

Connecticut law allows both state and local charter schools, but currently all Connecticut charter schools are state charter schools. This means that their programs and operating plans are approved solely by the SBE, rather than by a local school board and the SBE. The state funds these charter schools and they may also receive federal and private funds, but local school districts make no financial contribution. The only requirement on local school districts is that they provide transportation for local students to attend charter schools located in the district.

Operating Grants

State charter schools receive an annual state operating grant of $9,300 for each student enrolled in the school. By law, if the annual state budget appropriation for charter school grants for any year exceeds $9,300 per student, per-student grants must be proportionately increased. But the increase is limited to $70 per student. At the end of any year, a charter school may (1) use up to 10% of any unspent grant funds for expenses in the following year and (2) deposit up to 5% in a reserve fund to finance a specific capital or equipment purchase. The school must return any other unspent funds to the state.

In addition, within appropriations, the education commissioner may provide grants of up to $75,000 for start-up costs to any newly approved charter school that helps the state meet the desegregation goals of the 2008 settlement and court order for the Sheff v. O'Neill Hartford school desegregation case (CGS 10-66ee).

ECS Grant

The state pays no Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grants for students attending state charter schools, either to the school or to the student's home district (CGS 10-66ee (a)).

Capital Projects

For FY 06 through FY 09, charter schools could apply for state grants to finance new capital projects or general improvements to their school buildings, or to repay debt incurred for prior school building projects. The legislature authorized a total of $20 million in general obligation bonding for these grants ($5 million annually over four years), of which $7,470,846 remained unallocated as of September 20, 2010 (CGS 10-66hh). Although unallocated funds remain from the authorization, the legislature did not extend the authority for the education commissioner to accept grant applications, so no funds could be distributed in FY 10 or FY 11.

Transportation

The school district where a charter school is located must provide transportation to any of its students attending the charter school unless the school makes other arrangements. Any district may voluntarily provide transportation for any of its resident students to attend a charter school in another district. In either situation, the district is eligible for state reimbursement for those costs in the same way it receives state reimbursement for other public school transportation costs (CGS 10-66ee(f)). The state reimburses districts for public school transportation costs on a sliding scale from zero to 60%, depending on district wealth. For FY 11, if the total amount of transportation grants payable exceeds the state appropriation for those grants, each town's grant must be proportionately reduced.

OPEN CHOICE PROGRAM

The Open Choice Program is a voluntary interdistrict attendance program that allows students from large urban districts to attend suburban schools and vice versa, on a space-available basis. Its purpose is to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation; improve academic achievement; and provide public school choice.

Grants for School Districts Accepting Open Choice Students

The state pays a school district that accepts students (“receiving district”) a grant of up to $2,500 annually for each out-of-district student it educates under the Open Choice program. Students' home districts (“sending districts”) pay no tuition to the receiving district.

If the education commissioner determines as of October 15th each year that actual enrollment in the program is lower than the number of students for which funds were appropriated, he may allocate up to $500,000 of the excess for supplemental grants of up to $1,000 per student to receiving districts. The State Department of Education (SDE) must distribute the excess funds pro rata to receiving districts for any students who attend a school that enrolls at least 10 Open Choice students (CGS 10-266aa (g),(h), and (k)).

ECS Grants

For each Open Choice participant, the sending district receives 50% of its regular per-student ECS grant, while the receiving district receives 50% of its regular per-student ECS grant. Because each district receives half of its own ECS grant for each Open Choice student, the two amounts are different. Urban districts, which are the most common sending districts, receive higher per-student ECS grants than the mostly suburban receiving districts, so the ECS aid for taking a student is typically less than for sending one.

To better illustrate the state payments for Open Choice students, we attach Table 1, created jointly by the Office of Fiscal Analysis and OLR, which shows examples of the state and local contributions for Open Choice students from three towns in the Hartford region based on the average amount each town spent to educate a regular pupil in FY 09 (net current expenditure per pupil—NCEP).

Other State Grants

The law also allows the education commissioner to provide the following additional grants for Open Choice students, depending on appropriations. The commissioner may provide grants:

1. for students enrolled in the Hartford-region Open Choice program to attend pre-school and all-day kindergarten programs and to provide before- and after-school care and remedial services for these pre-school and kindergarten students;

2. for academic support for students enrolled in programs that help the state meet the requirements of the 2008 settlement of the Sheff case; and

3. to regional education service centers (RESCs) that provide approved summer school educational programs to Open Choice students (CGS 10-266aa (m)-(o)).

Grants for RESC Coordination

The RESCs coordinate the Open Choice program under SDE's supervision. They determine the number of empty seats in each school district available to program participants; run program lotteries when the numbers of applicants exceed the available spaces; and provide assistance to participating students and parents in transitioning to a new school district. The state gives each RESC an annual grant to help it administer the program in its area (CGS 10-266aa (c)).

Transportation

The state provides RESCs and local school districts grants for reasonable transportation costs for Open Choice students. Transportation grants cannot exceed a statewide average of $3,250 for each student transported. But the education commissioner can use any unspent appropriations to give RESCs additional money for transportation costs that exceed the maximum (CGS 10-266aa (f)).

REGIONAL AGRICULTURAL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY CENTERS

The law allows local school boards to make agreements to establish regional agricultural science and technology centers, formerly known as vocational agriculture (“vo ag”) centers, for their students in conjunction with their regular public school systems. Local school boards that do not offer agricultural science and technology training must designate a school that their students interested in such training may attend.

The agriculture centers serve secondary school students in grades nine to 12. Each program provides instruction in agricultural science and technology education, including plant and animal science, agricultural mechanics, acquaculture, agribusiness, natural resources, and the environment. There are currently 19 school districts operating regional agricultural centers, with total statewide enrollment of 3,043 students.

Grants for Districts Operating Agriculture Centers

Districts that operate agricultural centers receive annual state operating grants of $1,355 for each student enrolled in the center as of October 1 of the preceding year. Centers with more than 150 out-of-district students receive an additional $500 per student. A center that no longer qualifies for the $500 supplemental grant receives a gradually decreasing phase-out grant for four successive years after it ceases to qualify. A district operating a center that is not eligible for either a full $500-per-student supplemental grant or a phase-out grant, receives a supplemental grant of $60 per enrolled student.

If any funds remain after these distributions, all districts that operate centers receive an additional $100 per enrolled student. Any remaining funds are then distributed to districts operating centers with more than 150 out-of-district students based on the ratio of the number of out-of district students over 150 in each center to the total number of out-of-district students over 150 in all centers in the state (CGS 10-65).

ECS Grants

School districts receive a regular ECS grant for students attending agricultural centers in their own or another district. Such students are counted as resident students in their home districts for ECS purposes because they are enrolled in public school at town expense (CGS 10-262f (22)).

Tuition from Sending Districts

Districts operating agricultural centers may charge other districts annual tuition for each student they send to a center. The maximum tuition is 82.5% of the ECS foundation amount. The ECS foundation is $9,687 per student; therefore, the maximum agricultural center tuition is $7,992 per student per year. Tuition for students enrolled in shared-time programs is prorated (CGS 10-65 (b)). (In a shared time program, students take their regular high school academic courses at their home high school and their agriculture training at the agricultural center.)

Capital Projects

Through its regular school construction grant program, the state reimburses school districts for 95% of the eligible costs of building and equipping agricultural centers (CGS 10-65 (a)).

Transportation

Sending districts are responsible for providing transportation for their students attending agricultural centers. The state reimburses the reasonable transportation costs on a sliding scale of zero to 60% based on the school district's wealth, with poorer districts receiving a higher percentage reimbursement. In addition to the regular reimbursement, the state must reimburse transportation costs exceeding $800 per student at a rate 20 percentage points higher than the sending district's usual transportation reimbursement percentage (CGS 10-64 (d)).

TABLE 1: OPEN CHOICE FUNDING FOR THREE HARTFORD AREA TOWNS

(Shaded Cells Indicate a Town is Neither a Sending nor a Receiving Town)

Sending Town

Receiving Town

LOCAL CONTRIBUTION1

STATE CONTRIBUTION

Hartford

West Hartford

Granby

ECS Grant to Sending Town

ECS Grant to Receiving Town

Open

Choice Grant

Total State Payment

Hartford

Granby

0

 

$7,987

$4,317

$1,224

$2,500

$8,041

Hartford

West Hartford

0

$9,030

 

4,317

795

2,500

7,612

Granby

Hartford

$9,385

 

0

1,224

4,317

2,500

8,041

Granby

West Hartford

 

9,030

0

1,224

795

2,500

4,519

West Hartford

Hartford

9,385

0

 

795

4,317

2,500

7,612

West Hartford

Granby

 

0

7,987

795

1,224

2,500

4,519

Source: Office of Fiscal Analysis and Office of Legislative Research

1 The local contribution is the difference between the receiving town's net current expenditure per pupil (see Table 2) and the sum of the ECS grant for the receiving town and the Open Choice grant.

TABLE 2: NET CURRENT EXPENDITURES PER PUPIL (NCEP)

(2008-09)

Town

NCEP

Hartford

$16,202

West Hartford

12,325

Granby

11,711

Source: State Department of Education

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