Daniela James, a senior at Farmington High School, said she saw stark differences between the opportunities afforded her in Farmington compared to her former school, Waterbury Arts Magnet School.
Her current high school in Farmington offered 24 Advanced Placement Courses, in comparison to the three offered in Waterbury. She said that in her former school, students regularly dropped out, while 99 percent of students at Farmington High School graduated last year.
“The generational privileges that there are in Farmington, along with the multitude of AP classes to beef up [students’] transcripts makes them much more equipped to look appealing to selective colleges, and to have a huge advantage over someone from a low-income community such as Waterbury,” said James.
At a press conference on Tuesday, advocates and legislators gathered in support of a bill that will increase funding for public schools across the state — a decision that supporters say will help address the existing racial and socioeconomic divides in the education system.
State Rep. Bobby Sanchez, D-New Britain, co-chair of the Education Committee, said this was something the legislature had been discussing for years.
“We’re talking about education. We’re talking about educating our children. They are the future of our state and our country. What more important thing can you put dollars in or funding than children?” he said.
Under current law, the state is scheduled to increase funding for lower-income districts and decrease funding for wealthier districts over a period of ten years, reaching “full funding” of the districts in the year 2030.
The proposed bill would fast-track the funding formula so that poorer districts would receive their 2030 funding levels beginning in 2025, while continuing the gradual phase-out for wealthier districts scheduled to lose state funds.
Proponents added that having the additional funding begin in 2025 would ease the anticipated loss of funding when the federal coronavirus relief funds expire in 2024.
“About 18 months from now, those resources will go away. Yet the work of helping kids recover and reconnect and heal and get back on track and achieve everything they are capable of doing is not going to be done in a couple of semesters. This is the work of year after year after year after year,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin.
Waterbury superintendent Verna Ruffin said that knowing the funding will be there allows the districts to plan beyond the remaining 18 months that the coronavirus relief dollars will be available.
“It is useless to talk about economic development unless we economically and strategically fund our students and their learning in such a way that it impacts them regardless of where they live in the state,” said Ruffin.
Faith leaders under the umbrella of FaithActs for Education, a nonprofit made up of over 80 churches that advocate for public education funding, also spoke in favor of the legislation.
“I call on each of our legislators to respond to the urgency of this hour and to be transformed non-conformists,” said Bishop Daniel Bland of Mt. Calvary Church in New Haven. “What better way to demonstrate this – that you care about children, that you care about our communities — than to fully and equitably invest in education, and do it right now.”
According to the Office of Fiscal Analysis, 164 of the state’s 169 public school districts would receive an increase in state grants in 2025 under the proposed bill. The legislation would also commission a study on the funding formulas and on retention of teachers and staff in schools. An amendment to the bill would require a study on the impact of school funding on rural school districts in particular.
The bill increases state funding overall for charter schools, magnet schools and vocational agriculture, or vo-ag, schools, including a cost of living adjustment built into the grant for charter and some magnet schools. It will also provide charter and regional magnet schools more money for low-income children and English language learners.
The bill changes the mechanism for funding vo-ag and some magnet schools, which are currently funded when a child’s home district pays tuition to the school he or she attends. Under the new proposal, the state will pay the vo-ag or the magnet school through a grant, taking the burden off the municipalities. The schools will still be able to charge tuition to the school districts, however, if the state does not fully fund the grant.
State Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, said she was in support of the bill’s proposal to provide the same amount of per-pupil funding to the non-traditional public schools that the traditional public schools receive. She said she also expected more Republican support for the bill.
“We have a large opportunity gap in the state of Connecticut that we are trying to close,” said McCarty. “Education is a bipartisan issue. We all care about providing the best education we can for all of our children.”
The bill is expected to cost the state an additional $277 million in 2025, as well as additional funds in the years 2026-2029. Of the $277 million, $116 million would be directed to traditional public schools, $22.7 million to charter schools, $86.5 million to RESC magnet schools, $35.3 million for district magnet schools, and $16.4 million for vo-ag schools.
Virginia DeLong of the Connecticut School Counselor Association, said that beyond the academic advantages, the additional funding will also help districts in low-income areas to continue providing support services to students, especially in the area of mental health.
“Rates of depression, anxiety and suicide have greatly risen, and our students deserve the adults in their buildings who can help manage this during their school day,” said DeLong. “As a school counselor, I worry constantly that due to high caseloads, that students may be missed or that we just won’t get to all of the kids that want or need to see us in a day.”
State Rep. Antonio Felipe, D-Bridgeport, underscored the need to invest in education in the state.
“This is an economic issue. We are turning these dollars into more dollars on the back end, when kids graduate and go to college, when they go to trade schools, when they have the reading levels to go through the workforce opportunities that we are giving them. This is where it all starts,” he said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a revised fiscal note reflecting an amendment to the original bill. The note raises the total estimated cost of the legislation to $277 millon and the number of towns receiving increases from 99 to 164.