The following story was published on the front page of The Hartford courant on 26 Feb. 2014. The story demonstrates how staggering amounts of money are being diverted from our public school systems to magnet schools and charter schools. ===============
Education Chief Wants $35 Million More For Magnet Schools
Legislator Calls Last Minute Request "A Stunner"
By KATHLEEN MEGAN, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
7:45 p.m. EST, February 25, 2014
HARTFORD -- Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor has told surprised legislators that his department needs $35 million more to run the 84 magnet schools in the state -- on top of the $280 million the agency receives under the state budget.
"I've sat on appropriations for a long time and I don't think I've ever seen a larger surprise number sort of put out there at the last minute," said Rep. Andy Fleischmann, co-chairman of the legislature's education committee. "This really is a bit of a stunner."
Fleischmann added: "I'm waiting to hear back from the department about how exactly the initial budget proposed at the beginning of this month could be so widely different from what's being sought now."
Sen. Beth Bye, co-chairperson of the appropriations committee, said: "We need to understand why this wasn't budgeted for, so it doesn't happen again. That's a pretty wide range. We need to get a handle on it. It's a lot of money ... I'm just sort of baffled by it."
"This means other things are not going to get funded,'' Bye said.
Pryor did not have many details when he met with legislators this week, but later he provided a rough breakdown on those costs for the coming academic year, which he said included about $4 million for transportation, about $6 million for pre-kindergarten tuition, and $25 million associated with a variety of factors driven by the growth of enrollment at the magnet schools.
Connecticut's 84 magnet schools enroll 35,700 students. Next year, that number is expected to grow by 4,900 students.
Pryor said that his agency and the Office of Policy and Management "are committed to work with the leadership of the appropriations committee and the General Assembly to find a solution" to the budget issues. "OPM is already focused on this issue and has been diligently working it through with us."
Legislators were frustrated by the state Department of Education's plans to delay starting a program that would have defrayed the $6 million needed to cover pre-kindergarten costs at magnet schools.
That plan, which legislators said was legally mandated to start during the coming school year, was to charge parents tuition on a sliding scale for preschool programs, rather than having the state cover the full $6 million.
"I'm not aware ? that the state department has the latitude to say the sliding scale for preschool will go into effect in [fiscal year 2015-16] as opposed to next year," Fleischmann said during a committee meeting this week.
Pryor told legislators that the department recommended the charge for tuition be delayed because the sliding scale has not been determined and because the programs have already been advertised as free.
"I believe we are past the threshold point for introducing such measures," Pryor said, referring to a sliding scale.
Pryor said later that the department was open to initiating the sliding scale in the fall.
"It's simply a question of creating a scenario that's workable," Pryor said. "There a number of complicating factors. It's a complex situation."
The difference in opinion about whether implementation was required this fall came down to a few words in the statute.
Pryor said legislators were focusing on the part of the statute that says the state Department of Education "shall develop a sliding tuition scale" for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015.
But, he said, the statute also says that agencies operating magnet schools offering preschool "may charge for tuition." It is the word "may" that state officials believed gave them the option to delay implementation.
The issue has been a hot one for operators of private preschools who have said it is difficult to compete with magnet schools offering free preschool to parents who can afford it.
Gerry Pastor, president of the Connecticut Child Care Association, which represents 155 members with 300 licensed programs, said: "We would be disappointed if it got postponed ... We are very much hoping that there is a change to the status quo because it has damaged high quality preschool programs around the state."