In post-conference feedback that I've received, a few people have asked me to share examples of how others in the state have used ctdata.org. Since our next conference is not for a few months, I wanted to take this opportunity to share an example.
A couple weeks ago, a network of nine organizations, including the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, released the 2016 Edition of the MetroHartford Progress Points. The report looks at past and present efforts to tackle critical issues and builds an awareness of the key issues facing the region. The five main priorities in the report include:
- attracting and retaining a skilled workforce
- better connecting people to opportunity
- ensuring a quality education for all despite scarce resources
- building collaborative leadership and civic engagement to create long-term progress
The report pulled data from State Grants to Towns project that was created in partnership with the Office of Fiscal Analysis. This interactive tool contains 12 years of data on state payments to towns by type of grant.
In particular, the report examines declining public school enrollment between 2003 and 2013 and compares it to school construction spending. This is a good high level comparison to get the conversation started on school construction spending but in order to understand if there are opportunities to more wisely spend the money, the spending needs to be examined at a more detailed level.
For example, the School Construction grant program is not just for the construction of new facilities but also includes grants for roof replacement, educational technology upgrades for existing buildings, and energy conservation projects, just to name a few. A leaking roof needs repair regardless of the number of students in the building.
In 2011, P.A. 11-51 was passed and made several changes to the School Construction grant program. Two of the changes in terms of funding included:
- Lowering the reimbursement percentage for new or replacement schools to 10 to 70% of the eligible cost from 20% to 80% unless a school can show the cost for new construction is less than renovating or remodeling an existing school
- Reduction in the rate of state reimbursement for building new interdistrict magnet schools from up to 95% to up to 80% of the eligible cost
As can be seen from the statewide data, the total amount for School Construction grants has been declining since FY 2007 when it reached a peak. Although the passage of PA 11-51 reduced the amount of reimbursement rates it has not resulted in an overall decline of but instead an increase, a valley and then an uptick in FY 2015.
In diving into the data, it would be interesting to examine the school projection methodology upon which are used to justify new facility construction. AS with all data analysis, often more questions are raised once you start to dig into the details and there is a story behind the high level spending figures.