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CT Mirror: CT’s new budget provides critical resources for students

Lisa Hammersley, School + State Finance Project

July 19, 2023 - 3 minutes

Click to view the published Op-Ed

Heading into this most recent legislative session, an urgent and quickly growing crisis was looming for school districts and municipalities across Connecticut as they neared closer and closer to the edge of a fiscal cliff that threatened drastic cuts to K-12 education, significant layoffs of teachers and paraprofessionals, and steep property tax increases for taxpayers.

Seven months later, that crisis has subsided significantly thanks to the legislature’s historic investment in K-12 education as part of the new state budget, which delivered a monumental victory for school districts, communities, educators, families, and, most importantly, students.

Thanks to widespread, bipartisan support, next year will see the second-largest investment in K-12 education in Connecticut’s history. Along with increases to numerous grants, an additional $150 million will be delivered to students across the state for the 2024-25 school year.

But this funding is more than just a number on a page — it’s a lifeline for public school districts facing large shortfalls when federal COVID-relief aid expires next year, and it’s an essential key to helping preserve critical resources that students desperately need.

The increase in state support will help address student learning loss and be used to reverse record-low test scores by funding tutoring programs and investments in student support services. It will help meet students’ mental health needs by ensuring continued access to school counselors and psychologists. It will combat the teacher shortage that schools across the state are facing, and help districts fund critical staff positions. And it will help schools provide expanded after-school enrichment and summer programming to better engage, educate, and support Connecticut’s children.

These resources have always been vital to providing students with a high-quality education that allows them to succeed inside and outside of the classroom, and be equipped with the skills and knowledge our state and workforce desperately need. However, for many districts, particularly those in our highest-need communities, these resources have only been possible recently with the infusion of federal aid during the pandemic.

The additional funding will help provide literacy tutors, acceleration specialists, and teachers in East Hartford. In Ansonia, it will support summer programs tailored to multilingual learners, students with disabilities, and those requiring assistance in math. For students in Waterbury, it will preserve school counselors and an after-hours tutoring program. And in Stamford, it will help sustain paraprofessionals in their elementary schools.

These are just a fraction of the impacts this additional funding and investment will have in communities across our state.

Most importantly, this momentous step, coupled with legislative efforts to increase transparency and accountability in education spending, puts Connecticut on a path toward a truly equitable education funding system.

Next year, the state’s Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula will be 96 percent fully funded for historically underfunded communities. For the 2025-26 school year, the formula will be 100 percent fully funded for these towns — two years earlier than planned. These efforts will help ensure every child in Connecticut has the resources and opportunities they need to reach their full potential.

This is the result of a steadfast commitment this session to K-12 education by legislators on both sides of the aisle. As director of an organization committed to equitable education funding for all public school students, I want to sincerely thank the General Assembly, in particular the leaders of the House and Senate and the leadership of the Education and Appropriations Committees, for prioritizing Connecticut’s students, supporting these investments, and fighting to ensure every student has a fair shot at success.

The investments legislators made this session are more than just numbers in a budget. They’re life changers.

Lisa Hammersley is the executive director of the School and State Finance Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit policy organization that works collaboratively with policymakers, communities, and other key stakeholders to develop data-driven solutions that ensure all public school students receive equitable education funding to support their learning needs.

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