By Fred Karrat.
As of the 2016-2017 school year, Danbury spends $12,742 per student, giving us the esteemed privilege of being ranked 169 out of 169 districts in Connecticut.
Take a second to digest that.
Danbury spends less money per student than any other school district in Connecticut. Around $500 less than Ellington School District (#168) and $4,854 less than the average Connecticut school district. That is 168 districts that invest more in education, where families can buy a home to raise their children. That translates to lower resale values for Danbury homeowners.
The Danbury Board of Education is seeking an increase of nearly $7 million through a preliminary budget for 2017-2018. Despite that increase, Danbury will remain last in per pupil expenditures.
Again, if Mayor Mark Boughton and the City Council adopt the district budget in full, which they never have, Danbury would remain last in the state in per pupil expenditures. Danbury would need to increase the education budget by nearly $44 million to be “average.”
There is no doubt that the State of Connecticut is underfunding Danbury Public Schools. Since 2005 and with Danbury’s participation, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) has fought to change that. This January, 12 years after the original case was filed, the state Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s finding that educational funding meets the “minimally adequate” standard, but reversed that lower court’s ruling that Connecticut’s distribution of education aid violates the state constitution.
Now more than ever we must also evaluate the city’s contributions to education. Since 2008 the City of Danbury’s overall budget increased by 23.38 percent from over $202 million to over $250 million. During that same time the education budget increased by 14.84 percent from over $111 million to over $128 million. As a result, the education budget as a percent of the overall city budget decreased from 55.20 percent to 51.19 percent.
So, what does all this mean?
Danbury’s commitment to education decreased over the last 10 years, resulting in a shortfall of nearly $62 million over that time, with $10 million coming from this school year alone.
Meanwhile Danbury student enrollment increased nearly 12 percent, students eligible for free and reduced lunch increased by 22 percent, English language learners increased by 7 percent, and students with special needs increased by 2 percent.
Danbury’s schools are tired and its classrooms overcrowded. Our children mean the world to us and they deserve better. Our faculty and staff are amazing, but they need our support.
By not prioritizing education we are hurting our students and our community. Our city leaders must do what is right for our children right now.
Fred is a member of the Danbury Board of Education.