Wealthy state is failing our poorest kids (By Wendy Lecker)

Background:  Connecticut is one of the wealthiest states in the country, as measured by per capita income.  If it was its own country, it would be one of the ten wealthiest countries in the world.

Connecticut’s most important natural resource is its people and their educational attainment.  According to US Census data, Connecticut is ranked 4th in the percentage of college graduates, 3rd in the percentage of citizens with advanced degrees and nearly 9 in 10 have a high school education, although faced with the impact of growing poverty, the number of high school graduates is dropping and without adequate funding for public schools and a well educated population, Connecticut’s economic future will be grim.

Meanwhile, as a result of Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman’s irresponsible fiscal policies, Connecticut State Government has been plunged into fiscal chaos.  Today, Connecticut’s wealthiest pay about 5 percent of their income in state and local taxes, middle class and working families pay about 10 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the poor pay about 12 percent.

Based on fiscal and education policies that coddle the rich while diverting more than $100 million a year to privately owned and operated charter schools, Malloy and Wyman have now proposed the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public schools.  Extraordinary budget deficits already exist in Hartford, Bridgeport and other communities.

Thanks to Malloy, Wyman and the General Assembly, most school districts will now be forced to raise local taxes and make deep cuts to existing education programs in local public schools.

As the state’s leading politicians attempt to hide the truth, public education advocate and fellow columnist Wendy Lecker has written another “MUST READ” column.

Her commentary piece, entitled, Wealthy state is failing our poorest kids first appeared in the Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Media papers this past weekend

Wealthy state is failing our poorest kids (By Wendy Lecker)

Hartford parents, teachers and students came out in full force to last week’s Board of Education meeting to protest devastating school cuts. Owing to budget shortfalls, the district is cutting guidance counselors, intervention specialists, and other critical staff, art, sports, enrichment, SAT prep, textbooks, summer school, tutors and more. Many of Hartford high schools will be left with one counselor for 350-400 students. As one parent said, they are cutting the support Hartford students need; and the subjects that motivate them to come to school.

Hartford schools already suffer severe resource deficiencies. One high school has no library or computer lab. Another has no copier in the library, and no curricular material for certain classes. The culinary academy has no money to buy food for cooking class. The nursing academy cannot offer physics, though physics is a prerequisite for any nursing school. One high school is so overrun with rodents a teacher came in one morning to find five mice in traps she laid the night before. Teachers are forced to find vendors themselves and fill out orders in vain attempts to obtain supplies that never arrive. So they buy them out of their own pockets.

The conditions in which these students have to learn, and these teachers have to teach, is shameful — especially in Connecticut, a state consistently in the top five on the list of wealthiest states in America.

Hartford is not the only Connecticut school district suffering. According to a supplement to this year’s “Is School Funding Fair: A National Report Card,” issued by the Education Law Center (my employer) and Rutgers, Connecticut is the only state consistently among the five wealthiest states to have districts on the list of America’s “most financially disadvantaged school districts.” This year, two districts are featured on this list: Bridgeport and Danbury.

Since this list has been compiled, starting in 2012, Connecticut districts have been featured every year. Connecticut also has the dishonorable distinction of being the only wealthy state featured on the list of states whose funding system disadvantages the highest share of low income students; as measured by the percent of statewide enrollment concentrated in those most disadvantaged districts.

The National Report Card revealed some other disturbing facts about Connecticut’s lack of commitment to its public schools, especially those serving our neediest children.

As one of the wealthiest states, Connecticut does a poor job of maintaining competitive wages for teachers — a key ingredient to recruiting and retaining a strong teaching force. Connecticut teachers starting out earn 79 percent of the average salary of similar non-teaching professions. The report compares teachers with other professionals in the same labor market of similar age, degree level and hours worked. At age 45, that average drops to 73 percent of similar non-teaching professions.

An important measure of school funding fairness is the student-teacher ratio. High-poverty schools require more staff to address the challenges faced by their students. Small classes, reading and math specialists and support services are particularly necessary, for example. However, Connecticut is one of the few states with higher student-teacher ratios in poorer districts as compared to their wealthy districts. In fact, Connecticut is 46th out of 50 states plus Washington, D.C., in student-teacher ratio fairness.

High-quality pre-K is a vital component of education; reducing placement in special education and improving academic and life outcomes. Sixty-two percent of Connecticut’s 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in pre-K, but only 48 percent of Connecticut’s poor children are. That disparity lands Connecticut in 45th place out of 51.

The deprivation of essential resources in Connecticut’s poorest districts is the crux of the CCJEF case, now on trial in Hartford. The plaintiffs seek adequate funding for basic educational necessities.

They are on solid ground. A new longitudinal study out of Berkeley demonstrates that school finance reform makes a real difference for students. The study, based on nationwide data, found that school finance reforms lead to substantial increases in revenues in low-income school districts, and to increases in student achievement. This study confirms a 2014 national study from Northwestern showing improvement in achievement, especially for poor students, when school funding increases. Earlier state-specific studies found similar results.

The evidence is clear. Connecticut schools need more resources, and school finance reform is the answer.

However, this year, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made the deepest cuts to education in Connecticut history, while diverting more than $100 million dollars to privately run charter schools.

It is time for our elected officials in this, one of America’s wealthiest states, to start doing right by our poorest children.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s piece at:  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Wealthy-state-failing-poorest-our-6924830.php

  • Sleepless in Bridgeport

    And with all this underhanded crapola dished out by what used to be the party of the people…..with all the cuts…..Somehow Danny and the Grifters have seen fit to fund Stevie Wonder’s Harbor Academy and Storm Door Company with a complete and expensive athletic program. And who is overseeing this gross misuse of tax dollars? While the State Dept of Education headed by the puppet queen Wentzel and the double/triple dipper Clemmons. Oversight? Right Not in this lifetime. Gee I am really happy that my tax dollars are funding a football program and basketball program at a charter that doesn’t even take their fair share of Special Ed and ESL students, and then boots them out if they won’t sit at the Table of Shame. Malloy’s crap makes Donald Trump look good. What a friggin mess!

  • JMC

    This state is wealthy no more. Now Malloy is pretending to go after the State Workers’ Unions again after running the state into insolvency in a mere 6 years. The appr. $600 million in free cash handed out since 2011 via the new Earned Income Tax Credit could have solved a lot of our education funding problems. But pandering for votes is more important.