Wendy Lecker, leading public education advocate, education funding expert and fellow education columnist, returns to the issue of Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration’s utter failure to address the historic underfunding of Connecticut’s public schools or provide our students, parents, teachers and public schools with the resources and support they need to ensure a quality education for every Connecticut child.
At a time when a comprehensive, quality education is more important than ever, it is a stunning and terrible commentary that a governor, commissioner of education and legislature would intentionally refuse to fulfill one of their most fundamental and important responsibilities. It is truly a sign of the times.
In her latest column, that first appeared in the Stamford Advocate this past weekend, Wendy Lecker writes;
Maintaining the status quo of two Connecticuts
The defense is in full swing at Connecticut’s school funding trial, CCJEF v. Rell. The state is attempting to make the case that Connecticut’s poorest schools do not need any more state funding.
As if to hammer home their point, the newly minted deal from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the Democratic legislators slashes nearly $100 million from state education aid. More than $30 million will be cut from the state’s funding formula, ECS, along with tens of millions cut for school transportation, millions cut from special education; and cuts to additional state aid to Connecticut’s poorest districts, such as millions cut from priority school grants and turnaround funds.
These state aid reductions will have the most devastating effect in our poorest school districts. As detailed in an earlier column, Hartford is already forced to cut teachers, guidance counselors, intervention specialists and other key staff and programs. Further cuts to state aid will force more deprivation for these already starving schools.
How is the state dealing with this reality in court? The testimony of Education Commissioner Wentzell provides a clue. Wentzell, who spent most of her career in wealthy school districts or selective choice programs, repeatedly asserted on the stand that “leadership is much more important than money.” She even went so far as to claim that “(l)eadership without money works very well.” When asked whether resources might have something to do with student achievement, she pointedly evaded the question, even when the judge asked her directly.
Wentzell clung to her notion that all schools need is “leadership” even while conceding that CCJEF districts lack adequate basic resources such as guidance counselors. She downplayed the importance of other essential educational resources. For example, despite universal agreement that pre-K improves academic and life outcomes, especially for poor children, Wentzell said she did not know whether pre-K helps close achievement gaps. She also discounted the shortage of library and media specialists in Connecticut’s poorest districts.
Wentzell sang a different tune at Connecticut’s All-State Music Festival, just days after her testimony. The All-State Festival selects, based on auditions, student musicians from across the state from among those who already made the cut in earlier regional festivals. The students who were selected spent two days rehearsing with guest conductors, then performed for the public at the Connecticut Convention Center. Addressing the audience and more than 400 student-musicians before the concerts, Wentzell emphasized that music is essential to a quality education; claiming she and the state are committed to music education in Connecticut’s public schools.
Although the festival took place in Hartford, not one Hartford student participated in the concerts. Nor were there students from Bridgeport, Windham, New Britain or New London schools — all CCJEF plaintiff districts. The concert participants were virtually all from Connecticut’s wealthier districts.
It is not that talent only resides in Connecticut’s affluent towns. In Bridgeport, because of a lack of resources, instrumental programs are virtually nonexistent. There is no instrumental program in elementary school and very little in middle school. Harding High School had no music teacher until last year. Only one Bridgeport high school has a small band. The story is similar in Hartford. Many schools cannot offer any music classes at all. There is no instrumental music in Windham’s elementary schools, except for the higher-funded STEM magnet, and very little in middle school. As a result, Windham’s high school music programs are small. New Britain has to rely on outside grants to try to cobble together an elementary music program. Children in our poorest districts have little exposure to music education and their talent goes undeveloped.
Does Commissioner Wentzell think that “leadership” will enable these districts to conjure flutes and violins from thin air?
The contradictory messages Wentzell sent in court and on the stage at the All-State Festival are telling. For her, children in Connecticut’s poorest districts do not need essentials such as guidance counselors, pre-K, libraries, or music, as long as they have “leadership.” But children in Connecticut’s wealthiest districts can have it all.
Wentzell, Malloy and our other state leaders are clearly content with the status quo of two Connecticuts: well-appointed schools in wealthy mostly white towns, and our poorest schools, serving our neediest children and mostly children of color, unable to provide the basics. Let us hope that the judge sees the injustice Connecticut’s political leaders refuse to acknowledge.
Wendy Lecker’s article first appeared in the Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Connecticut Media Group publications. You can read and comment on it at at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Maintaining-the-status-quo-of-two-7467340.php