Connecticut is known for many “firsts” and “onlys.” We can be proud of many of them. The first telephone book, the first hamburger and the only steam-powered Cider Mill in the U.S. just to name a few. But right now, we’re leading the nation in something else, and it’s not good. Worse, it’s to the detriment of our children. After a stalemate of more than 100 days, we are the only state in the nation without a budget. And for the children of Brass City Charter School in Waterbury, specifically the children we work for every day, this isn’t just unfair — it’s unacceptable.
Today, my first-grade son said goodbye to his kindergarten “class Grandma.” After cuts to the program, today was her last day. This was a federal program, but as we cut kindergarten paraprofessionals in 2016, these women were our last line of defense. According to the Connecticut School Finance Project, under Gov. Dannel Malloy’s executive order, Bridgeport will receive $5.6 million less in state funds than last year. Under the Republican budget, passed by the legislature but vetoed by the governor, that number would’ve been $7 million.
At this time of fiscal hardship in the state, districts are looking for ways to save money, such as by closing schools, sharing services and, sometimes, consolidating districts. As they are looking for more efficiency with at least continued effectiveness in carrying out their mission, they should keep an eye on their district’s enrollment projections.
On Thursday, Sept. 28, the Connecticut Supreme Court heard arguments in a landmark education case, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell, (“CCJEF”). It is no hyperbole to say that CCJEF has the potential to be the Connecticut equivalent of Brown v. Board of Education. As in Brown, the CCJEF trial court found the disparities in Connecticut’s public education system to be too vast to ignore. In Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, and other urban centers across the state, fewer than one in three children is on track to be college and career ready, “nearly 1 in 3 students … can’t read even at basic levels,” and many high-school graduates are “functionally illiterate.”
Yet there is no question Connecticut’s public schools can do better
As our students return to school, they know they’re beginning a year of new challenges, new ideas, and new people. Behind the scenes, however, things look a little different. Because state legislators still haven’t fixed Connecticut’s broken public school funding system, the staff at Park City Prep is going into the new school year prepared to scrape by with insufficient resources.
There is a serious public health issue that is harming many high school students across our state. It may be causing them to be ill, have higher rates of depression and substance abuse, obesity, car accidents and sports injuries. It is reducing their academic performance in the classroom and on standardized tests. What is causing this crisis? Schools that start too early in the morning.
TYhe House Democrats’ proposed school funding plan is not a legitimate attempt at a logical or responsible school funding formula. It falls far short of creating the “rational, substantial and verifiable” school finance system that Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher called for in his September 2016 ruling in CCJEF v. Rell.
Whether viewed through the lenses of wealth, District Reference Groups, or student achievement, Gov. Dannel Malloy’s recently announced distribution of Education Cost Sharing grant money has obvious flaws and inconsistencies that defy logic and lead one to the conclusion that this is just an extension of the arbitrary and capricious administration of the program that has plagued it in the past.
Teachers wear many hats. Instructor. Mentor. Advocate. Mystery shopper typically isn’t one of them. But for this teacher and Stratford City Councilwoman, my past life as a mystery shopper has been instructive and complementary endeavor. It taught me a lot about what I believe in today and reinforced vital lessons, like the value of hard work and persistence, and the importance of strong writing and critical thinking skills.
An English teacher friend of mine was a finalist for Connecticut Teacher of the Year in the mid 90’s. As one of the culminating steps in the selection process, the four finalists were instructed to research a little-known subject and present their findings to an audience. The topic was charter schools. There were no charter schools in Connecticut at the time. My friend concluded that the worth of charter schools would depend on the answers to two questions: 1) Will the innovations created at charter schools inform and improve the public schools that the vast majority of children and adolescents in the U.S. attend? 2) Will charter schools be held accountable to address student needs as traditional public schools are required to do?
It’s 3 p.m., do you know where your children are? We often refer to youth as our future, yet when budget cuts roll around, the money used to invest in students gets put on the chopping block. Even with a state line item for after- school programming, 44 percent of students in Connecticut who are not enrolled in a program would be likely to participate if one was available.
As a public health advocate, I work each day to educate families and health care providers about the importance and availability of vaccines. As a parent, my top priority is the health and safety of my children. So, it was surprising to me when I recently encountered a potential issue in getting my son immunized against a deadly, yet vaccine-preventable disease — Meningitis B.
On July 19, the unelected, governor-appointed Connecticut State Board of Education approved 504 additional seats in state charter schools for next year, with 154 of those seats going to Capital Preparatory Harbor School in Bridgeport. Go figure: Connecticut is in a budget crisis with every expense being monitored, yet new charter school seats, which cost the state $11,000 each, are being initiated. The cost will be more than $5.5 million.
Have you ever played Jenga, the game where you try to preserve a structure built out of wooden blocks while at the same time you remove pieces one at a time?
If so, you know that there is a limit to how many building blocks you can remove before the whole tower comes tumbling down. Jenga offers an analogy for today’s ongoing efforts to remove pieces from the state budget without crippling state government or the people it serves. The big difference is that the state budget is no game, and what topples are not wooden blocks, but people’s lives.
As the budget process continues in Hartford, we urge legislators to ensure that urban schools, from traditional district schools to magnet and charter schools, don’t fall by the wayside.