Madeline Negron speaks at a press conference held by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities urging lawmakers to fully fund HB 5003. Jessika Harkay / CT Mirror

Local leaders from across Connecticut are teaming up to publicly apply pressure to Gov. Ned Lamont and the General Assembly to accelerate funding to the state’s public education system.

Mayors from Wolcott, Stratford, New Britain, New Haven and New London, alongside superintendents from across the state, announced Thursday morning an advertising campaign in support of House Bill 5003, which would accelerate scheduled hikes in the Education Cost Sharing grant, which distributes state money to school districts, to help better equip them for when COVID-19 relief funds expire. 

“When you look at how students are funded in this state, you can see the students are not funded equitably,” said Madeline Negrón, who serves as the acting deputy superintendent of academics and school leadership in Hartford. “School districts with the highest concentration of high-need students — that’s students living in poverty, multilingual learners, students with disabilities — almost universally spend less per student than school districts [without these] student populations.”

“Let me be clear — this is not a criticism of what more affluent towns are spending on children. Every parent does everything they can for their child. … But rather, this is a call to action, a call for us to collectively do more — do more for high-need students from high-need school communities. What better investment can we make if it’s not investing in our children’s education? The impact on their life now is the future.”

In 2017, the state of Connecticut approved a bipartisan plan to bolster the ECS program and its distribution of around $2 billion in education funding to districts through a phase-in process over the course of 10 years. Implementation was delayed for two years.

HB 5003 proposed another acceleration of payments of $275 million by 2025, instead of by 2028. The money would be directed to districts where more students come from low-income families and where districts can’t afford to help pay for the extra support these students would need.

According to language in the bill, it would:

  • Weight school funding based on student need;
  • Get rid of tuition at inter-district magnet schools and regional agricultural science and technology education centers;
  • Change the formula used to fund individual towns and fully fund areas that were previously underfunded;
  • Increase spending accountability by increasing money distribution to student achievement, teacher recruitment and retainment and work toward engaging the community in local education.

The bill unanimously passed out of the Education Committee 44-0 earlier this session. 

Last week, the Appropriations Committee endorsed a state budget that included $136 million over the next two years to keep the Education Cost Sharing grant program for local school districts on the growth schedule initially adopted in 2017. The committee’s chairs said the spending cap simply blocked the idea to fully fund HB 5003.

The committee budget does include an extra $20 million, though, to hold some school districts harmless that otherwise were scheduled to see their grants drop under the ECS formula.

“I want to thank the Appropriations Committee for putting in $150 million additional in the budget. … It’s really important to acknowledge the challenges that the legislature faces with funding and that we took a huge step in the right direction,” New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said. But “we’ve got to get more funding across the finish line. This is a win-win for everyone. It is a win-win for our communities. It is a win-win for our students. It’s a win-win for the future economy of our state.”

Negrón and Elicker are members of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, the organization that spent $100,000 to fund the ad campaign, which is expected to span at least four weeks. 

The commercials are expected to debut by early next week on CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX and channels 3, 8, 30 and 61, in addition to print and social media advertisements, according to a press release from the organization. 

One of the advertisements flashes through a handful of student’s faces as a voice speaks about how every child deserves a great education and that in Connecticut every child does not have the same access because funding relies on local property taxes. 

“Now our town and cities can provide the same opportunities,” the advertisement says. “There’s legislation to fix that by having the state provide more resources for our schools. Please support it, or look her in the eyes and tell her, ‘Sorry, you don’t get the same chance of success.’”

CT Mirror State Budget Reporter Keith Phaneuf contributed to this report.

Jessika Harkay is CT Mirror’s Education Reporter, covering the K-12 achievement gap, education funding, curriculum, mental health, school safety, inequity and other education topics. Jessika's experience includes roles as a breaking news reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Hartford Courant. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Baylor University.