In her budget proposal last week, Governor Jodi Rell recommended maintaining current levels of state aide for local education, but Appropriations Committee members say those numbers are not adding up.
"Frankly, based upon what you've presented to us today, there is just no way we can live with this," Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Toni Harp told State Education Commissioner Mark McQuillian after his testimony on the governor's plan.
House Chairman John Geragosian's criticism was more specific. He called the governor's plans for local school funding a rosy picture, but he says it is not realistic when deficit estimates are coming in 2.7 billion dollars higher than the gap closed by the governor's budget.
"That's basically a 3 billion dollar, at best, deficit. So I think we have to caution our local governments and our superintendents that we can't deal with that 3 billion dollar gap without looking at these grants."
There is also uncertainty about how much the final federal stimulus bill will help. Commissioner McQuillian told lawmakers that the governor's proposal counted on the amount of federal aid included in House of Representatives' version of the bill.
"If that is cut, and there is some indication that it will be cut in half, that will be harder. We will have a bigger hole to fill."
Local school officials says even flat funding from the state would cause difficulties. Patrice McCarthy, with the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, says districts will still have to contend with built-in cost increases, particularly for salaries.
"I think that the legislature is going to have to look at additional tax increases, because if they don't do that, they're forcing tax increases at the local level."
Local school districts are ratcheting up their lobbying to make that case, including busing in parents to testify before the Appropriations Committee.