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CT Mirror: Lamont’s budget built on broken education funding promises

Lisa Hammersley, School + State Finance Project

February 08, 2024 - 4 minutes

Click to view the published Op-Ed

“I think we are much better off when we keep our word.” - Gov. Ned Lamont

Roughly one week after he was quoted saying the above, and just eight months after signing a bipartisan budget that made historic and long-overdue investments in K-12 education, Gov. Lamont has proposed cutting more than $60 million from Connecticut’s public schools — breaking a promise his administration made to students, families, and educators.

As part of the biennial budget passed last year, the governor and the General Assembly appropriated an additional $150 million in the second year of the budget (fiscal year 2025) specifically for K-12 education and public schools throughout the state. Those funds are now at risk.

As school districts and towns prepare their budgets for next year, the governor has proposed drastically cutting the $150 million commitment, which was intended to not only help individual communities across Connecticut, but also to move the entire state toward a more equitable, transparent, and student-centered funding system.

The additional $150 million appropriated for FY 2025 would be the second-largest investment in K-12 education in Connecticut’s history and a life preserver for historically-underfunded schools and communities that are facing record-high student needs while standing on the edge of a fiscal cliff as federal COVID-relief aid expires.

Unfortunately, the governor’s budget proposal would deflate this bipartisan life preserver by slashing the $150 million investment and forcing school districts and municipalities to either cut programs, lay off teachers and paraprofessionals, or enact steep property tax increases to maintain services and staff. By drastically reducing funds for K-12 education, the governor’s proposal is not only passing the buck onto local taxpayers and straining town budgets, it is stripping away resources that are critical to helping our state’s children, families, and future.

The governor’s budget proposal would take away more from our public schools than a dollar figure — it would take away essential resources used to address student learning loss, maintain tutoring programs, and help meet students’ mental health needs. These are resources that allow districts to provide expanded after-school enrichment and summer programming or better equip students with the skills necessary to meet the needs of Connecticut’s economy and employers.

The education funds on the governor’s chopping block are needed by our students, our schools, and our state now more than ever.

Test scores are at all-time lows, a recent report found 119,000 of Connecticut’s young people are considered at-risk or disconnected, pandemic-induced student learning loss is estimated to cost Connecticut $188.4 billion over the course of this century if not addressed, and over 90,000 jobs remained unfilled in the state with employers citing finding skilled applicants as the biggest problem to filling positions.

Additionally, researchers from Harvard and Stanford recently found that Connecticut’s math achievement gap is now larger than it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic with students in many of the state’s highest-need, lowest-income districts suffering the greatest learning losses. As one researcher put it, “No one wants to see poor kids footing the bill for the pandemic, but that is the path Connecticut is on.”

Sadly, Connecticut will go even faster down this troublesome path if the governor’s budget proposal is adopted, resulting in tens of millions of dollars being cut from public schools and erasing the progress made during the 2023 legislative session toward equitable education funding.

It is expected the governor and his budget office will attempt to paint this budget proposal as simply a matter of fiscal preferences and attempt to pit worthy cause against worthy cause as the administration sits atop a $650 million current year surplus and a Rainy Day Fund overflowing with taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars that are not being used to help taxpayers, their families, or their communities.

Connecticut’s budget should not be pitting child against child or furthering the already wide gap between the haves and have nots in our state. Instead, it should be a moral document, reflective of our priorities as a state, that works to solve our biggest challenges, invests in our shared future, provides every Connecticut resident with a fair shot at success, and upholds the promises we’ve made to our state’s most precious asset — our students.

For nearly 13 years, I worked on state budgets for Connecticut — nearly five years with the Office of Policy and Management and eight years serving as the budget director for the Senate Republican Caucus. I’ve been in the room as state budgets are being crafted and I’ve seen firsthand what a difficult task budgeting can be and the tough decisions that must be made. But I also know one of the most important parts of budget crafting is keeping your word and honoring your commitments, especially when those commitments are made to students.

Eight months ago, our state promised each of our over 500,000 public school students a historic investment in their future. We promised them — no matter where they live or the school they attend — the equitable funding necessary for a high-quality education that helps them grow and learn, prepares them for college and career, and equips them with the skills, knowledge, and opportunities needed to succeed inside and outside of the classroom.

We made this promise and we owe it to our state’s students, schools, and future to honor it.

As the governor said, we are much better off when we keep our word.

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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