OLR Research Report

October 3, 2008




By: Judith Lohman, Chief Analyst

You asked for a description of state requirements and funding for constructing and operating an interdistrict magnet school and for information about the status of the Stamford environmental studies magnet school.


By law, interdistrict magnet schools are eligible for special state funding to support their construction and operation beyond that available to local public schools. To be eligible for funding as an interdistrict magnet school, a school must meet statutory requirements relating to its program, its student enrollment, and its operation. There are two kinds of magnet schools. “Host” magnets, which are operated by the school districts where they are located, and magnets operated by regional educational service centers (RESCs).

The Stamford environmental studies magnet school is a new host interdistrict magnet school scheduled to open in the fall of 2009. The city received a state school construction grant commitment for the school in 2005. As with other interdistrict magnet schools, the state reimbursed the district for 95% of the eligible costs for building and equipping the school. To receive this reimbursement, Stamford had to submit, and the education commissioner had to approve, the school's operating plan and program. To receive annual state funding for its operation, the district must submit an annual operating plan to the commissioner and meet and maintain student diversity requirements.

This report describes requirements and grants that apply to interdistrict magnet schools like the Stamford environmental studies school. Magnet schools intended to help the state meet the goals of the 2008 settlement of the Sheff v. O'Neill desegregation decision relating to Hartford and its surrounding districts have certain special operating requirements and funding levels that are not addressed here.


Grant Amount

In general, the state reimburses towns for from 20% to 80% of the eligible costs for local school projects. The exact percentage amount depends on town wealth. For interdistrict magnet schools, however, the state reimburses up to 95% of the eligible costs. Reimbursements can cover the cost of purchasing, constructing, extending, replacing, leasing, or performing major alterations in interdistrict magnet school facilities. A magnet school project must comply with the regular school construction requirements, including General Assembly approval as part of the annual school construction priority list. But the education commissioner can waive any requirements of the school construction law for good cause.

Grant Eligibility

A local or regional board of education, a cooperative arrangement between two or more such boards, or a RESC may apply to the education commissioner for a magnet school construction grant. In addition to the regular school construction grant application requirements, an applicant for a magnet school grant must also submit, and the commissioner must approve, an operating plan for the school. The plan must include:

1. a description of the educational programs the school will offer;

2. the project completion date;

3. an estimated budget for operating the school; and

4. an analysis of how the school will reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation.

Grant Repayment Requirement if Building No Longer Used as Interdistrict Magnet School

If the state provides a grant for the purchase or construction of an interdistrict magnet school and the building ceases to be used as such a school, the education commissioner must determine whether (1) title to the building reverts to the state or (2) the school district must reimburse the state for the difference between the 95% grant and the grant the district would have received for a school project under the regular 20% to 80% state reimbursement for school construction costs. If the state grant was for an extension or alteration project for an interdistrict magnet school and the building is no longer used as such a school, the school district must repay the difference in the grant. Districts must reimburse the state by the close of the fiscal year following the fiscal year in which the education commissioner requests reimbursement, otherwise the State Department of Education (SDE) must withhold the reimbursement amount from state grants to the school district or town ( 10-264h(c)).


Eligibility Requirements

All interdistrict magnet schools are funded by a mixture of state and local funding. Some schools receive federal and private funding and part-time arts magnets may also charge tuition to students' parents. To qualify for a state operating grant, an interdistrict magnet school must:

1. support racial, ethnic, and economic diversity;

2. offer a special and high-quality curriculum; and

3. require students to be enrolled at least half-time.

A school that begins operating on or after July 1, 2005 must (1) limit the number of students from a single participating district to no more than 75% of the total school enrollment and (2) maintain an enrollment of minority students that is at least 25% but no more than 75% of the school's total enrollment.

Participating districts must provide opportunities for their students to attend an interdistrict magnet school in a number at least equal to (1) the number specified in any written agreement with an interdistrict magnet school operator or (2) the average number of students that the participating district enrolled in the magnet school during the previous three school years (PA 08-170, 17).

Grant Applications

Magnet school operators must submit annual applications to the education commissioner for state operating grants. In deciding whether to approve the grants, the commissioner must consider at least:

1. whether the school's program is likely to increase student achievement;

2. whether it is likely to reduce racial, economic, and ethnic isolation;

3. the percentage of students enrolled from each district participating in the school; and

4. the school's proposed operating budget and funding sources.

The law bars the commissioner from awarding a grant to any school that started operating on or after July 1, 2005 unless it meets the racial and ethnic diversity and district participation requirements stated above, except that the commissioner can waive the requirements for one year, for good cause.

Grant Amounts

State magnet school operating grants are distributed on a per-student basis, but the per-student grant amounts vary. In addition, grant amounts may be proportionately reduced to stay within available appropriations.

“Host” magnet schools receive a maximum state grant of $3,000 for each student who lives in the host district. For each student who does not live in the host district, the grant is $6,730 in FY 09, $7,440 in FY 10, and $8,158 in FY 11.

Grants for RESC-operated magnets that enroll at least 55% of their students from a single town are the same as for host magnets. For each student who is not a resident of the dominant town, the grant is $6,730 in FY 09; $7,440 in FY 10; and $8,158 in FY 11. For each student who lives in the dominant town, the school receives $3,000.

For RESC-operated magnets that enroll less than 55% of their students from a single town, per-student grants for all students are $7,620 for FY 09, $8,180 for FY 10, and $8,741 for FY 11.

A magnet program that operates less than full time, but at least half-time, receives 65% of the above amounts (CGS, 2008 Supplement 10-264l).


Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Grants

The ECS grant is the state's major grant to towns to support local public education. It is distributed according to a formula that takes account of town wealth, the number of resident students and their educational need, and a statutorily established foundation amount. School districts receive ECS grants for their students who attend interdistrict magnet schools. But, PA 07-3, June Special Session, changed how students attending interdistrict magnet schools are counted for purposes of calculating ECS grants for their home districts.

One key factor in the ECS formula is the number of each town's resident students. For FY 09, the 2007 law reduced each town's ECS student number by 25% of the number of its students who attend interdistrict magnet schools full-time and for whom the magnet school receives a state magnet school operating grant. Towns did not actually feel the effect of the change because the same law also required that every district receive an FY 09 ECS grant that is at least 4.4% more than its FY 08 grant. The minimum increase outweighed the impact of the student count reduction for FY 09.

The 2007 law also required SDE, by October 1, 2007, to notify local school boards to anticipate that each town's ECS student count for FY 10 will be reduced by 50% of its students attending interdistrict magnet schools full-time. However, to actually implement such a reduction, the General Assembly must adopt additional statutory language, which it has not yet done.

Tuition Payments

Participating Districts. Interdistrict magnet schools may or may not charge participating districts tuition for each of their students who attend the school.

Host districts can often meet their magnet school operating costs entirely from the ECS grants they receive for their own students attending the schools, plus the state per-student magnet school operating grants. As a result, these host magnets may not charge tuition to participating districts sending students to the school.

Since RESCs do not receive ECS grants for students attending the magnet schools they operate, those schools typically charge tuition to districts sending students to them. Tuition amounts are determined by the magnet school operator. For RESC-operated magnet schools, sending district tuition is a significant source of operating funds.

Nonparticipating Districts. Interdistrict magnet schools that have unused student capacity after accommodating students from participating districts in accordance with their enrollment agreements, can enroll any interested student directly into their programs. Students from a district that is not participating in any interdistrict magnet schools or in the Open Choice interdistrict attendance program have preference.

The board of education otherwise responsible for educating such a student must pay the magnet school at least the per-student tuition, if any, charged to participating districts. For FY 09 and for RESC-operated magnet schools only, the tuition charged to such nonparticipating districts must be at least 75% of the difference between the magnet school's average per-pupil expenditure for the prior fiscal year and the state operating grant payable for the student plus any other revenue available to the school calculated on a per-pupil basis.

If the nonparticipating district fails to pay the tuition, the education commissioner can withhold the money from the ECS grant payable to the town and transfer it to the fiscal agent for the magnet school as a supplementary operating grant (CGS, 2008 Supplement 10-264l, as amended by PA 08-170, 17).


Funding is provided through the normal state school transportation grant program for students transported to magnet schools in their home districts, and through a separate grant of up to $1,300 per student for students transported out-of-district. Expenditures over the $1,300 limit may be submitted for reimbursement in the following year in the normal school transportation grant (CGS 10-264i).



The Stamford board of education submitted an application for a magnet school construction grant to build the environmental studies magnet school to the education commissioner on June 29, 2004. The commissioner approved the school's operating plan and placed the school on the school construction priority list for submission to the General Assembly by December 15, 2004. The General Assembly approved a grant commitment for the school in 1 of Public Act 05-6 (see attached). The grant commitment was for $55.1 million, which was 95% of the eligible cost of the estimated $58 million project.

According to SDE records, as of July 30, 2008, Stamford had received school construction grant payments totaling $22,474,916 for the environmental studies magnet school project.

Operating Plan

According to Bill Magnotta, head of SDE's magnet school office, the following districts have notified the department that they are interested in participating with Stamford in the environmental studies magnet school: Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, Monroe, Norwalk, and Weston. Stamford also invited the following additional districts to participate: Bridgeport, New Canaan, Ridgefield, Stratford, Trumbull, Westport, and Wilton.

The school operating plan SDE approved in 2004 called for a preK-8 school with an environmental studies theme. The district has notified SDE that it will be submitting revisions to this plan within the next two weeks. According to Magnotta, the revisions eliminate the preK program, reduce the number of grades to K-6, and adjust the school's theme to incorporate a theme from another school in the district that is being closed.

As you requested, we enclose a copy of the school's original operating plan and will forward the plan revisions to you when they are submitted to SDE.