The House of Representatives gave final passage late Tuesday afternoon to a bill designed to sharply increase, and retain, the number of teachers of color in Connecticut classrooms.
The Senate unanimously passed the bill on May 28. It now goes to Gov. Ned Lamont, who applauded legislative approval of the bill, for signing.
Lamont pointed out that while more than 40 percent of Connecticut’s student population are people of color, only 8.7 percent of the state’s public school teachers are minorities.
“Numerous studies have shown that students of color do better in school when they have teachers of color in the classroom, however our state has overwhelming disparities and should be doing more to ensure diversity in our schools, including among faculty,” Lamont said. “All students should have access to positive teaching and learning experiences so they can be prepared for the global workforce that awaits them. Enacting these improvements will be a direct investment in the classroom and in student success.
During the House debate Tuesday, Rep. Patricia Billie Miller, D-Stamford, spoke passionately about the transformative power that teachers of color can have on their students.
“There’s something, when somebody that looks like you, there’s something that they instill in you, there’s something that they impart in you, to tell you that you can be somebody,” said Miller, before joining 149 of her colleagues in voting in favor of Senate Bill 1022.
The bill requires the state’s Department of Education to develop and implement strategies and use its existing resources to ensure local and regional boards of education hire a minimum of 250 minority teachers statewide each year.
Miller recalled going to school in the segregated South before moving to Connecticut when she was 9 years old. “It was a culture shock for me to be in an integrated classroom with a white teacher because 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade, I had someone who looked like me, teach me,” Miller said. “If it wasn’t for me going to school with someone who looked like me, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today.”
Remembering one Connecticut educator who told her she wasn’t smart, Miller said, “I wasn’t used to that, as a nine-year old child, coming to a state that said, ‘You know what, you’re from the South, you’re not smart,’ and I had to live with that.”
In 8th grade, Miller had a black math teacher who saw her potential and nurtured her talent, inspiring her to later earn a degree in mathematics.
“If it wasn’t for that teacher, that teacher, that African American teacher, I wouldn’t be standing here,” Miller said.
The bill also requires at least 30 percent of the 250 minority teachers hired every year to be men, includes provisions that expand teacher reciprocity with other states, and provides mortgage assistance for educators who graduated from universities that traditionally serve minority students
Rep. Christopher Rosario, D-Bridgeport, said those provisions make the legislation a jobs creation bill as well as an education bill.
“This is an opportunity for men and women that are black and brown to get a good, union-paying job, to have upward mobility and to get into the middle class,” he said. “And that’s something that lifts all boats here in the state of Connecticut.”
Speaking as a lawmaker, educator and parent, Rep. Bobby Gibson Jr., D-Bloomfield, said it’s a disservice to teachers and students alike if their instructors are racially homogenous.
“Our children need teachers who are diverse because we live in a diverse world, with people all over the world who have something to offer our students,” Gibson said. “This is not just about African American, Hispanic teachers. This is about having teachers, creating teachers, a system, and supporting teachers of diverse backgrounds, so our kids can grow and learn and love one another.”