As the Executive Director of ConnCAN, a statewide education advocacy organization, I’m often forced to look at issues from a 30,000-foot level. The systems and structures. I could provide you with all the structural reasons why investing in education is vital for the future of our state:
- I could go over our recent National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) scores and tell you that Connecticut’s Black students perform worse than Black students in Mississippi and that we have among the largest opportunity gaps between white and Hispanic students in the nation.
- I could highlight how persistent chronic absenteeism leaves students further and further behind. [Answer: New Haven’s chronic absenteeism rate is 58.1%; Hartford 46.0%]
- I would warn us all of the impending fiscal cliff and the repercussions of not providing sustainable funding for our school districts. [Answer: Federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) $900M investment ends September 2024 – leaving huge holes in local budgets]
- I could analyze the reasons for our teacher shortage and what its impact has already been on our highest-need students. [Answer: Over 1,200 vacancies with 25% coming from special education]
- I would express concern over the future of our homegrown workforce and Connecticut-based companies that want to stay here but may struggle to find the talent to support their enterprise. [Answer: Connecticut has nearly 100,000 openings, many that remain persistently unfilled]
But, systems are made of individual people, each with their own story, their own struggles, and their own hopes for the future.
So let’s tell that story from a 4-foot level:
A kindergartener in Waterbury has 13 years of school ahead. That experience will help determine the future opportunity of her life. What does that experience look like, and how does student-centered funding alter the trajectory of her life?
We know she’ll need high-quality teachers at every level. H.B. 5003 provides resources to better financially support the educator workforce and invest in professional development.
We know she’ll need mental health support for an issue she’s struggling with that’s negatively impacting her ability to focus and learn. H.B. 5003 provides resources to allow mental health professionals to reduce their ratios and provide one-on-one attention.
We know she deserves access to a 21st-century curriculum and the technology associated with those lessons. H.B. 5003 allows districts to invest in new engaging content.
We know she may need extra help in early literacy. H.B. 5003 allows her favorite interventionist Waterbury hired in 2022 using American Rescue Plan funds to stay on, rather than leave due to grant expiration.
We know she’ll need clear air, safe school grounds, and ADA-compliant facilities. H.B. 5003 reverses decades of deferred maintenance.
We know she’ll benefit from work-based learning, high-dosage tutoring, music classes, art, and extracurriculars, field trips, and most importantly, the dignity of knowing her education matters.
She’ll walk through a 13-year experience knowing her dreams are supported. She’ll feel confident and safe with the understanding that her state and community invested in her. And, because of this, she’ll give back. She’ll stay. She’ll thrive.
I urge our elected leaders to fully fund H.B. 5003 in this biennium budget. If we change the experience for all our children at the 4-foot level, the 30,000-foot level will look transformatively different.
Subira Gordon is the executive director of ConnCAN.