Connecticut schools have seen many changes throughout the past two years. However, one thing that has not changed is the inequity in funding throughout our school districts.
Even after these inequities have been highlighted and underscored by the challenges of remote learning and the pandemic, we still have yet to put legislation in place that can make great progress towards an equitable education for all Connecticut students. This is finally the year we can change that.
Many of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds granted to schools during the pandemic have been greatly used to fund staffing in our schools to help decrease shortages and increase mental health supports. However, these positions were needed long before Covid, and they will have no staying power without long-term funding to support them. Connecticut has a massive racial funding gap of over $700 million dollars and we need to help address this -–and solve this–- by expediting the Education Cost Sharing phase-in and fully funding education by the time the federal dollars run out.
Lack of district funding is the driving force behind the majority of issues plaguing our teachers and students, particularly students in the most underfunded districts Recent reports have shown Connecticut reading and math scores lagging behind those in neighboring states, with BIPOC students in our most underfunded districts being the most impacted.
Without equipping all students with the needed tools and assistance for an adequate education, this will only persist, and our students will continue to fall behind. This disparity is by design, and we are telling students -–primarily Black and brown students, poor students, students in underfunded districts–- that they don’t matter.
During the 2022 legislative session, Connecticut made great strides in improving education in our schools by passing the children’s mental health bills. However, the primary source of funding for the children’s mental health bills are coming from ESSER funds that expire in 2025, and this progress cannot continue if every district does not have the funding needed to pay for the necessary programming and support staff.
The current ECS phase-in ends in 2028. Due to the expiration of the ESSER funds in 2025, this leaves Connecticut schools vulnerable to a fiscal cliff beginning within the next two years. This means that a generation of students may once again be left behind. By doing nothing to fix this, we are telling those students that they are not worthy of the state’s investment, nor worthy of the same education as their peers in neighboring districts.
We cannot keep putting these issues aside and continuing forward. They are happening now, and they need to be addressed immediately.
Connecticut claims to have the number three public schools in the country, but how does this accurately reflect the experiences of all of our students? Students and educators need adequate support to address challenges in their classrooms, starting with equitable resources for each student in our state.
We have an opportunity to implement a solution to significantly address the racial funding crisis in our state. We have an opportunity to help schools end staffing shortages. We have an opportunity to equip schools with the resources they need for adequate mental health care and classroom learning. We have an opportunity to make a difference. But only if we make our voices heard and demand that legislators pass HB5003 during this legislative session.
Daniel Pearson is the Executive Director of Educators for Excellence – Connecticut