School buses in Hartford. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

It’s well known that COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on our education system. Not only did students and teachers have to adapt to online learning virtually overnight, but inequitable access to technology and other resources has also meant that the most vulnerable students have been the most negatively impacted during an already challenging school year.

What’s less talked about is the opportunity the pandemic presents to finally set students on equal footing, so that all students in our state finally have the opportunity to thrive.

The good news is that federal dollars are on their way. Over $1 billion are coming to Connecticut through the American Rescue Plan. This is an unprecedented investment in our schools that will go a long way toward addressing students’ interrupted learning over the last year.

But we should be clear about one thing. These federal dollars are temporary, and they won’t solve school funding in our state long-term. Inequitable school funding has plagued Connecticut since long before the first positive COVID test.

As crucial as those dollars are in making up for lost time during the pandemic, they won’t solve our state’s education funding challenges on their own. As a 2020 report from Education Law Center highlights, while Connecticut compares favorably to other states when it comes to average per-pupil spending and the dollars allocated to pre-K-12th grade education as a percentage of our state’s economic capacity, we receive a failing grade when it comes to ensuring that additional dollars go to the districts serving the poorest students.

And, it’s not just students living in poverty in whom our state fails to invest. A recent analysis by the School and State Finance Project found a $639 million funding gap between majority white districts and districts predominantly serving students of color.

As a teacher in Hartford, these findings don’t surprise me. But they are heartbreaking. In wealthier districts, students have access to many technologies and pandemic supports, while in Hartford, we don’t even have enough paper to last the entire year. My students are bright and brimming with potential. It’s time for Connecticut to fund our schools so that every student — not just those in wealthy districts — has the opportunity to succeed.

While the American Rescue Plan dollars are intended to help students recover from unfinished learning and from impacts to their social, emotional and mental health caused by the pandemic, we should focus on solving the root causes that have led the system to fail our most vulnerable students.

Which leads me to more good news: just this month, several important measures that make education funding in Connecticut more equitable were added to the next state budget. These changes will direct additional funding to schools serving English-language learners and high concentrations of students from low-income households.

In short, these measures offer a path to narrow the opportunity gap for Connecticut’s most underprivileged students. Historically, districts with elevated poverty levels and high percentages of English-language learners have spent less per pupil. These budget changes reduce that discrepancy by flattening the funding between advantaged and under-advantaged communities.

This increase in funding is essential, especially to assist those students who have been without the physical presence of school for much of the pandemic, losing access to critical services like speech therapy, special education services and hot meals.

While these measures aren’t perfect, and there’s a lot more to do to make school funding in Connecticut more equitable, they are a step in the right direction. Teachers and students alike stand to benefit immensely from fully funding education. Additional funding means more guidance counselors, more paraprofessionals and smaller class sizes. With these changes in sight, we need legislators to make the only equitable decision and to ensure that these measures are passed in this budget.

We must also continue to fight for budget equity — our students can’t afford to wait any longer to address the history of inequity in our schools. My fellow teachers and I won’t give up until all schools are fully funded, because my students in Hartford and other students across the state deserve to finally receive their fair share.

Claudia Tenaglia is a middle school social studies teacher at Dwight-Bellizzi Dual Language Academy in Hartford. She has over 15 years of classroom teaching experience across a variety of disciplines around the world.