Randi Weingarten, the leader of one of the nation’s largest labor unions came to an inner-city school in Hartford Thursday to lambaste the budget cuts proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat she helped re-elect in 2014.
Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which also represents other public-sector employees, says the Democratic governor should expect a call from her.
“The proposed state budget is really horrible. When you see cuts of that magnitude – that are ultimately going to seep its way into schools throughout the state – that basically says that the fight from last year of corportations bullying the governor worked,” Weingarten told reporters as she toured Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, a public school where eight out of 10 students are not proficient in reading.
Weingarten was referring to a group of three major companies last spring that said proposed tax hikes, if implemented, would make them reconsider staying in Connecticut.
“One of the reasons I wanted to be in Hartford today was to actually talk to people about the effects. I have been briefed in the last couple of days on what he’s doing. I am just shocked. I am really shocked,” she said. “When the state takes this kind of cut, its basically saying its reversing course on its values. I will be speaking to the governor about this, you can count on that. He will be hearing from me.”
At a separate public event, Malloy smiled and said, “She’s a friend. She’s welcome to call me any time.”
Facing a $570 million deficit for the fiscal year that begins in July, Malloy is proposing closing all of that shortfall with spending cuts.
Weingarten worked hard to mobilize teachers for Malloy in 2014, urging them to look past any lingering anger over his comments about the ease with which teachers obtain tenure. She said then his budgets were good for education.
“Yeah, I don’t like some of the things he’s said, either,” Weingarten told the AFL-CIO convention in 2014. “But what he’s done, he’s increased funding for K-12, increased funding by seven percent for K-12, making Connecticut the second-highest education spender in the country since the recession.”
Malloy said Thursday he thought his budget still was good for education, noting he has maintained funding levels for Education Cost Sharing, or ECS, the state’s major funding program for local education. He does, however, propose rescinding an $11.5 million funding increase that was included in the previously adopted two-year budget.
“In point of fact, ECS was not impacted with a reduction over current levels,” Malloy said. He suspected that Weingarten, whose union also represents state employees outside of education, was more concerned with other aspects of his budget.
But Weingarten focused on education. While Malloy is flat-funding ECS, other programs in schools throughout Connecticut would be cut or eliminated.
Malloy proposes a $52.9 million cut in funding for special education, after-school programs, reading tutors and other services in low-performing public schools across the state. Another $3.6 million would be cut for early childcare and education programs. (See which programs are targeted for cuts here.)
Here are a few programs that may be cut:
- The Commissioner’s Network: a group of 17 low-performing schools that have been targeted for additional funding and support from the state. The funding has largely gone to help struggling schools hire additional staff to provide students that fall behind with tutors, hire attendance monitors to reduce chronic absenteeism and extend the school day.
- K-3 Reading Assessment Pilot: With so many students not becoming proficient in reading by Grade 3, this pilot aims to identify early students who are struggling to learn to read. This program is in low-achieving schools in East Hartford, Hartford, New Haven, Norwalk, Waterbury and Windham and uses a new reading assessment that has a student read while a teacher follows along on an iPad and observes for fluency, phonetics, and comprehension. Students that are identified as behind receive extra tutoring and supports and are reassessed regularly.
- Family Resource Centers: The centers provide school-aged children with childcare before and after school as well as adult education classes for those with limited English proficiency.
These proposed cuts come as a trial is underway down the street from the state Capitol to determine whether the state is spending enough for students in urban schools to receive a constitutionally adequate educational opportunity.
Hartford Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, who listened in as the superintendent from Bridgeport testified in that trial earlier this month, said during Weingarten’s visit that she is reserving judgment on the impact of the governor’s proposed funding level.
“I need more information. I don’t know enough about what it means yet,” she said. “We anticipate with the state’s challenges to also receive flat funding, so that will mean some cuts for us. So, we’re going to have to face some hard choices this year.”