A coalition covering essentially every school in the state – public, independent, and Catholic - descended upon the state Capitol on Wednesday to protest cuts in money for school buses.
Seven different groups are opposing nearly $28 million in cuts that were made by the budget-writing appropriations committee for buses that serve both public and non-public schools. In many towns, the same buses are used as the drivers finish a shift for the local public school before picking up the students at a nearby private school that starts classes later.
The coalition includes the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), the Connecticut Federation of Catholic School Parents, the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, and the Council of Small Towns, among others.
Similar cuts have been threatened in the past, but the money has been restored by both Democrats and Republicans in the legislature. Under state law, Connecticut has used public money to bus private school students since 1957 – during the tenures of the past nine governors.
Some lawmakers say they expect the money to be restored again this year, including $2.9 million for non-public schools.
“Under Connecticut law, transportation is considered part of a student’s right to a free public education. Eliminating funding for school transportation imposes a multi-million dollar unfunded mandate on our towns and cities,” said Jim Finley, the CEO of CCM. “Coupled with other budget cuts, the elimination of this funding will shift more of the burden onto property taxpayers to fund education.”
The General Assembly rejected similar proposals under Governor Lowell P. Weicker, and the money was restored. The proposed elimination of the busing program in the early 1990s would have affected many well-known schools in the Hartford area, including Kingswood-Oxford in West Hartford, Loomis Chaffee in Windsor, East Catholic High in Manchester and Renbrook School in West Hartford.
The executive director of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools, which represents Catholic, Jewish, Episcopal, and non-denominational schools, said at the time that the proposal could have boomeranged by forcing some cash-strapped private schools to close or boost tuition prohibitively high.
The state policy started more than 50 years ago during the tenure of Gov. Abraham Ribicoff when a tie was broken in the legislature by House Speaker Nellie Brown.
The law applies only to private schools where more than 50 percent of the students are permanent residents of Connecticut. As a result, prestigious schools such as Miss Porter\’s School in Farmington and Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford have not been involved in the program at times in the past. The subsidies also apply only to students who live in the same town as the school, such as Windsor students who attend Loomis Chaffee.