Last year, the state legislature added $150 million more dollars to education funding. However, our work is far from over.
Districts are now faced with what they need to do and prioritize to make sure students are receiving the best and most equitable education possible. To see success, this money needs to be poured into the classroom and into hiring necessary personnel for schools.
While we are grateful for the work the legislature accomplished last year regarding school funding, in order to fully address the inequitable funding throughout the state, the Education Cost Sharing formula needs to be fully funded before the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds run out in 2026.
Connecticut still has a tumultuous and complicated funding structure based on school type, and we still need an additional almost $200 million to fully fund the ECS formula. Additionally, we need to make sure that the money granted to the districts for this year is being used correctly and efficiently.
The achievement gap still exists, and if we are serious about closing it, then we need to invest money into the proper programs. The $150 million is going to districts as municipal aid, making it dependent upon district leaders to see where the money goes. We are calling on districts to use this money to ensure students are receiving the education they deserve. To make this happen, districts need to be investing funding in three main areas: children’s mental health, academics, and overall school climate.
To help identify the students who need mental health support, districts should be investing in teacher trainings to help educators recognize student needs and to identify when a student needs help. Then once these students are identified, districts need the proper professionals in place to intervene.
On average, schools have one social worker for every 580 students, while the recommended ratio is one social worker for every 250 students. This means that students who need assistance and mental health support are not receiving the individualized care they need. Additionally, schools are lacking the necessary behavioral technicians and nurses who can address the social-emotional needs of their students. Putting money towards hiring these programs and this additional staff is key to the success of our schools and our students.
Academically, schools in higher-needs districts may be less likely to have one on one support and tutoring programs than their counterparts in more affluent neighborhoods. Students in all public schools would benefit from additional classroom support. Interventionalists are needed to address gaps in classroom learning, and support staff lowers the stress on the teacher in the classroom. When there is less stress, the teacher can be more present, can connect more effectively with students, and the students learn and retain lessons better.
All of this work and additional hiring will in turn create a better network of support for staff within schools. If staff feels supported and educators don’t feel overwhelmed, the school environment improves for everyone. Schools across the country are suffering from staffing shortages, and these shortages are often caused by teacher burnout. Teachers wear many hats in their positions, and without the necessary support personnel in the classroom, teachers cannot always teach to their full potential. If we have the needed amount of staff in a school to handle students and work, teacher and staff retention is also likely to increase.
The evidence is clear, if the money is put into the proper programming, public schools across the state could improve. No matter the public school, all students need and deserve quality education. We spent the past five years fighting to get the legislation to fully fund our schools, and we cannot let it go to waste. Although we still have work to do, we have a great opportunity to make significant strides with this additional funding.
We must continue advocating to ensure that our school districts need to use this money wisely, and that they use it in the best ways possible to serve our educators and students.
Daniel Pearson is the Executive Director of Educators for Excellence – Connecticut.