We have reached the end of the Connecticut 2022 legislative session with some major wins, but we are far from ending the racial funding gap and opportunity gap throughout the state for our children.
Passing the children’s mental health bills is a huge accomplishment and a step in the right direction toward equitable education, but this legislation cannot succeed without full funding throughout all of our school districts.
The children’s mental health bills passed by the legislature will provide more mental health resources and social and emotional learning support within classrooms across Connecticut. This will provide students with the individualized care that they need in school, decrease burdens placed on educators and increase student visibility inside of the classroom. However, we need to ensure this ongoing support lasts. Since much of the school-based personnel will be funded by a grant program funded through federal ESSER funds, these positions will be temporary. The ESSER dollars run out in 2025, and without full funding, so will much of the children’s mental health support.
We know mental health issues existed in our schools before the pandemic, and without proper funding, they will continue to exist long after. In many instances, the classroom is where early identification of trauma-related issues takes place, and it is vital that schools have the resources they need to support and teach the whole child. Since the start of the pandemic over two years ago, students’ needs for these resources have continued to grow. With the installment of the ARP and ESSER funds, the government granted schools funding to address these mental health issues – as well as other school-based issues that arose throughout the pandemic. However, if we do not continue to fund our classrooms beyond the expiration date of these funds, no sustainable changes can be made.
In order to give our students what they need and deserve, we need to fully fund our schools. It will take schools time to hire new staff to fill gaps. It will take time to onboard new staff and implement new programming. By the time these professionals are working inside of the classroom and these resources are available to our children, they will be in the classroom for a short amount of time before the federal dollars run out, leaving our classrooms and students back at square one.
Passing the school funding bill this legislative session would have meant expediting the Education Cost Sharing phase-in and fully funding education by the time the federal dollars run out, giving our schools the opportunity to provide necessary resources for our students, while also easing the burden that often falls onto the shoulders of our educators. Also, committing to fully fund ECS will give districts the assurance they need to utilize the federal dollars most effectively, knowing they won’t face a massive fiscal cliff when the funds run out. Now, schools will be left with their normal budgets once the federal dollars run out, and will therefore be forced to cut new programming and new staffing that were implemented in the wake of the pandemic. This will result in a continuing opportunity gap in our highest needs districts.
It’s long past due that we fully fund education. We have fought for this continuously for years. Yet, in one breath, our government leaders are saying we have a massive surplus in our budget, but in another, they are saying we do not have enough money for our students. When will we finally have enough?
We applaud our legislators for passing these historic mental health bills and making mental health a priority, but our work is not done. In order for us to truly embed these vital services and resources into our schools, we must fully fund education in Connecticut so these programs can continue once the federal dollars run out. We need to continue working hard and urge our legislators to fully fund our schools during the next legislative session. The success of our students depends on it.
Daniel Pearson is the State Director of Educators for Excellence.