Recently the Connecticut Education Committee passed H.B. 5003: An Act Concerning Education Funding in Connecticut, with bipartisan support. This is the first time a school funding bill has ever received a unanimous ‘yes’ from the Education Committee passing 44-0.
This was a massive win for educators and students throughout Connecticut, as they have been dealing with a lack of school funding and increasing staffing shortages for many years. However, with the release of the appropriations committee’s budget, the fight for education equity in Connecticut is far from over.
The ESSER funds, provided to school districts during the pandemic, will end in less than two years, and with this looming, we are seeing districts like Hartford developing a budget for next year that is allotting for fewer teachers and staff members. This is due to the simple fact that districts cannot add money to their budgets that will likely result in layoffs in a year or two when that federal money is gone. All this does is compound the staffing issue we have been seeing in our schools for years, and therefore negatively affects our students throughout the state.
The needs of our students across the state continue to grow and, if we do not address these budgeting issues now, we will continue to fall short on giving Connecticut students the education they need and deserve.
Many of the issues our students and teachers are facing in the classroom — overcrowding, lack of mental health support, learning loss, and more — boil down to one main issue: we need more personnel in our school buildings.
Our schools need more teachers, they need more social workers, and they need more support staff. However, schools cannot make these new hires without sustainable funds to keep the positions in the future. Without fully funding the Education Cost Sharing formula this legislative session, districts cannot best utilize the federal funds, nor hire more personnel knowing that they will not have an increase in state money to sustain those positions.
According to Gov. Ned Lamont, Connecticut is currently dealing with a surplus within our budget. Not utilizing this surplus to help improve Connecticut education would be a grave mistake. Connecticut schools have one of the largest racial funding gaps in the country at over $700 million. Without fully funding H.B. 5003 with $357 million, we are reinforcing the idea that some students are simply not worth our investment. How can we choose to highlight Connecticut’s top performing school districts, while continuing to ignore the districts that continue to struggle to meet students’ basic needs?
This legislative session presents us with a unique opportunity to rectify the inequity existing throughout Connecticut schools, and we need to fully fund ECS this year to prove to students that, no matter their zip code or economic status, they are worth our investment.
I am calling on our legislators and our governor to fully implement H.B. 5003 in this year’s budget.
Daniel Pearson is Executive Director of Educators for Excellence – Connecticut.