To the Editor:
Connecticut schools have ranked in the top three schools in the nation, but we are also home to some very poor performing districts as well – including Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport. This disparity causes a major opportunity gap for students throughout Connecticut, and it can no longer be ignored by our state or by Gov. Ned Lamont.
While high-earning districts are planning to use their ESSER funds for things like necessary school repairs, additional school programming and other schoolwide improvements, due to years of underfunding and staffing shortages high-needs districts like Hartford and Bridgeport need to use their government funding to hire additional teachers, paraprofessionals, personnel and other staff. Additionally, these positions can only be sustained for as long as the ESSER funds are available to districts.
As a teacher in Hartford, I have seen what low funding in a highly-populated district can look like, and the issues it causes have only worsened in the wake of the pandemic. The interventionist that my school was able to hire with the ESSER funds has been a tremendous asset to our school, and without her, our students would not be receiving the additional support and individualized attention many of them need. However, since positions like hers are sustained through federal funding, their permanence remains unstable. Without promised funding to keep professionals and support staff in our classrooms, our students will once again be at risk of falling behind.
If Connecticut finalizes and passes a school funding bill similar to last year’s equitable education funding bill, disparities amongst districts can be addressed as schools can focus their spending on additions to their classrooms, as opposed to basic needs and staffing requirements. There is currently a $713 million racial funding gap between school districts serving predominantly white students and those serving BIPOC students. This continued gap causes roadblocks in implementation of mental health, social emotional learning and tutoring programs, and perpetuates issues with staffing throughout our most high-needs districts.
Interestingly, districts with the highest rates of economically disadvantaged students are the most likely to spend funding on mental and physical health. But then these districts face the difficult task of prioritizing which issues are the most important to address. A lack of staffing prevents mental health and SEL programs from being successful, but a lack of mental health and SEL programming can be detrimental to students’ long-term success. Without adequate funding, this vicious cycle continues.
My school serves students in grades Pre-K to eight, and we currently have only two social workers for all students. And while we have programming to help our students address their emotions and mental health needs, the lack of support staff in schools prevents them from experiencing these programs at their fullest potential. As teachers, we try to do our best at being pseudo-social workers, but without the proper support staff inside of the building, we can become overwhelmed ourselves. Funding for support staff is crucial to teachers’ mental health, as well as our students.
Additionally, if we fully fund our schools and make it so that staffing needs and resources are met, our schools can also put more money into their student curriculums. Second-grade students from one district to another should not be learning different curriculums, while all being assessed by the same statewide test. If our schools could put more money into their curriculums, we would see less disparity in learning from one district to another. Our students, no matter their school, should feel as though they are on the same level as their peers throughout the state.
I am calling on Gov. Ned Lamont, and the rest of our Connecticut legislators, to finally address this school funding crisis once and for all. Our students cannot continue on with such disparities, and the ESSER funding will run out quickly. The upcoming legislative session is our chance to finally right these wrongs, and ensure that Connecticut schools can all rise to the challenge of our top three ranking, and that no more students are left behind.
Classroom equality in Connecticut is long overdue.
Wright is a second-grade teacher in Hartford Public Schools