School Reform in Connecticut

 
Instead of 165 school districts as Connecticut currently has, how about only six?

Instead of 165 school districts as Connecticut currently has, how about only six?

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It sometimes seems as if everyone has an opinion on what’s ailing Connecticut public schools, and how to fix them. Accordingly, we’d like to point out what seems to be an obvious problem: Connecticut has way too many school districts. The system is expensive, overpopulated with administrators and filled with redundancies. Isn’t it time we started acting like a state instead of a group of cities and towns?

Even after all the debate and political maneuvering last year, public school reform in Connecticut remains an elusive exercise, especially since it’s trying to impose a 21st-century solution on a 17th-century structure. For it can be argued that the greatest impediment to reform is not the intransigence of teacher unions, the weakness of politicians beholden to those unions, the over-reliance on property taxes to fund our children’s learning, achievement disparities among urban and suburban schools, or a whole host of social issues over which no system can exert control. Rather, it’s our steady-habit refusal to change the inefficient, centuries-old, highly localized organizational structure under which we operate our public education system.

Consider that the basic framework remains mostly intact from the time early Colonists started establishing public schools in the 1600s. As it was over 300 years ago, our towns and cities for the most part form the basic political structure for educating our children, devoting the vast majority of their revenue-raising efforts to funding the endeavor. Excellent schools, after all, are a point of pride in many towns.

Local school boards are, for the most part, used to going it alone, secure in the belief that only they can have their town’s children’s best interests in mind. And in fact, many do a good job. But many districts are feeling the need to try something different.

Enrollments in 70 percent of the state’s districts are decreasing, but even so, costs continue to rise. We seem to have fairly exhausted ways to throw more money at public education. School boards that base budgets primarily on revenue raised through property taxes are meeting resistance. Municipal governing boards, pressured to hold the line on tax increases, now frequently reject what school boards consider bare-bones budgets, forcing even more cuts. To make ends meet, boards have closed schools, laid off teachers, staff and administrators, eliminated core programs as well as electives, and charged for activities that used to be a free part of the educational experience. And they’re still not done.

At the state level, most of the attention on school reform last year focused on the method of evaluating teachers and mitigating disparities in student performance between rich and poor districts. However, buried about a quarter of the way into Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s much-debated 163-page school reform bill were 14 lines out of a total of more than 5,000 that would fund a study on consolidating smaller school districts, and then, in 2016, provide incentives to actually go ahead and do so. As passed, the state Department of Education was required to complete the study by Jan. 1, 2013.
 

School Reform in Connecticut

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