For nine years, Connecticut was one of the very few states in the country that did not reduce state funding for public education. In 2016, that very praiseworthy policy ended.
The impact of reduced state funding for education will be felt in one way or the other by every child who attends a public school in the state. Whether it is by virtue of facilities that are not as well maintained as they should be, of programs that are reduced or eliminated, of class sizes that are increased or by virtue of any one of a number of other reductions in their educational programs, children will experience in school year 2016-17 an educational program that is less than it should be if every child is to be prepared to lead a decent and productive life as a citizen in a democracy.
Teachers, support staff, administrators, superintendents of schools and members of boards of education will do everything that they can do to ameliorate the negative impact in reduced state funding. All of their best efforts, however, will not compensate for the fact that Connecticut children will not receive the public education that they deserve.
Simply bemoaning this reality, however, is not a sufficient response. Complaining about a sinking ship does nothing to stop the sinking. Policy makers and educators have to summon the knowledge, intelligence and courage to start now a process that will prevent Connecticut from experiencing over the next five to seven years what it experienced this year, the need to reduce programming due to insufficient revenue.
Specifically, at least the following needs to be done.
• The identification and implementation of structural changes in the state’s revenue producing system so that the downward spiral of revenue enhancement is reversed.
• A serious study of the mandates that the state places upon local public education systems. This approach would examine every one of the 381 mandates that are presently on the backs of local systems, keep in place those mandates that make sense, revise those mandates that need revision, consolidate those mandates that can be consolidated and eliminate those mandates that cannot be justified.
• The implementation of financial incentives designed to foster as much regional cooperation among school districts as possible.
Gov. Dannel Malloy and state legislators took some steps in 2016 that will help local school districts foster the creativity and innovation at the local level that is necessary if the state’s public education is to be what it needs to be in order to meet the needs of children in the 21st century. Among those steps are the following:
• Postponing the implementation of costly new graduation requirements that will do little to make sure that every child graduates from a public high school prepared to take the next steps toward leading decent and productive lives.
• Refusing to impose new, costly and unnecessary training mandates for school system staffs.
• Initiating a study of the training mandates that have already been imposed upon school districts.
• Refusing to increase the number of students for whom local school districts would have to provide transportation to and from school.
• Providing some financial incentives for regional cooperation.
These steps are welcome indicators that the governor and legislators are not willing to simply accept an inadequacy when it comes to educational programs for children. These leaders need to be encouraged to take more and bolder steps in this regard so that what Connecticut children experience in the future is a public education system that prepares them to be successful in the 21st century.
Joseph J. Cirasuolo, Ed.D., is executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.