Gov. Ned Lamont and his Republican challenger Bob Stefanowski found common ground at a forum on Sunday hosted by Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut at Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport.
The self-described collective of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and civic organizations from New Haven and Fairfield Counties pressed the candidates for their views on education, and on implementing the “Clean Slate” program which allows people to have convictions for misdemeanors and low-level felonies expunged if they aren’t convicted of another crime.
Clean Slate, which was approved by the legislature in 2021, has been a key part of CONECT agenda for social and economic justice.
Asked whether they would “lead the charge” in fully funding Connecticut schools with at least $250 to $275 million to ensure that public schools can transition away from COVID relief funding, both candidates said they would – though Stefanowski drew a line by advocating for a “money follows the child” approach to school funding.
Stefanowski said his parents moved his family from New Haven to North Haven when he was young so that he and his sisters could have a better education.
“Number one, people shouldn’t have to leave where they live to have a better education,” Stefanowski said. “Number two, we need to provide that opportunity for families that want to do it.”
Stefanowski said education funding should “follow the child.” to let their parents decide the best educational environment for them.
“Don’t abandon inner-city schools, make them better,” Stefanowski said. “But don’t keep a kid trapped in an underperforming school because of the zip code where they live.”
Lamont said Connecticut is “already on the way” to meeting the needs of all Connecticut public school students, touting “the biggest investment in education in the history of the state,” with additional hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, along with funding mental health care, workforce development and daycare.
“I used to be a teacher at Harding High School, I know what that inequality is like, and it starts with a great teacher,” Lamont said.
He said he wants to do everything he can to get teachers to want to teach in Connecticut, and not just at suburban schools.
“We’re giving mortgage support, we have relationships with historically Black colleges, Puerto Rican teacher colleges, to get the most diverse, best teachers in the world, get them to come to the great state of Connecticut,” Lamont said.
Asked whether they would commit to providing $3 million in funding for the Clean Slate program over the next four years to ensure that people eligible for the program don’t “fall through the cracks,” both candidates said they would.
Rodney Moore, a co-chair of the collective’s criminal justice reform team, said that when the assembly met in 2018 during the last gubernatorial campaign, the impediment of criminal records became a key issue for the group, leading to a three-year push to pass Clean Slate.
Now that Clean Slate is law, Moore said the group needs state leaders to support its implementation when it goes into effect on Jan. 1.
“Absolutely, and it should be more,” Stefanowski said when asked if he would support $750,000 a year for the program.
Lamont, who signed the bill for Clean Slate despite his reservations that the program would allow expungement for too broad a range of felonies, said that his administration would do “whatever it takes to make sure Clean Slate works.”
“One of the first things I did when elected [in 2018] was go to the Cheshire prison, and I saw what it meant for those kids to get that second chance, that opportunity,” Lamont said. “We got it done, one of the first states in the country, and we’re going to do it right.”