To the Editor:
I spent a lot of last year fighting for education funding in Connecticut. I was feeling burnt out as a teacher, and I was hopeful that Connecticut legislators would finally fully fund education. Unfortunately, the bill was not passed, and the need for funding is now more dire than ever. This year, it is imperative that we pass H.B. 5003 and fully fund education in every Connecticut school.
By stepping inside of a Hartford school, it quickly becomes evident just how underfunded our schools really are. Similarly to last year, classrooms are still crowded, student to staff ratios remain out of balance, and most faculty and staff are still trying to make it through the day with their ever increasing workloads.
While some improvements have been made in hiring and program implementation, we are now living with mounting anxiety as we see the expiration of the ESSER funds grow nearer. We are still suffering from a staffing shortage, and for every teacher who ultimately chooses to leave the district, the amount of work needed in the district does not change. This places more responsibility on the teachers in the school, and this problem simply cannot be solved without additional funding.
Similarly to last year, along with my typical teaching workload, my days at work are filled with additional preparation and planning compensating for a lack of staffing, especially in our middle school. The domino effect of additional responsibilities and time due to a lack of adequate staffing has a negative impact on our students. I still am not spending enough of my planning time thinking about engaging lesson plans for my students. Many classes are split, almost every day, due to a lack of substitute teachers and a lack of adequate coverage. Teachers are still overextending ourselves in trying to do everything we can to give our students positive experiences. But we need the support of additional staff, and we need the funding to make this happen.
This year, myself and other educators are still struggling with the ability to provide individualized attention to our students. While this is a vital part of teaching and building successful trusting relationships with students, there is not enough time or resources to discuss meaningful feedback with each and every student. Without personalized feedback from teachers, students cannot grow and improve their skills in the classroom.
Last year, we made some positive headway in passing the children’s mental health bills to help try and rectify this issue, but unfortunately, additional support staff are needed to implement these programs that would give students this essential one-on-one attention. And adequate funding is needed to provide this additional support staff.
Like many districts, even with the current aid from the ESSER funds and the ability to implement mental health programming to improve our students’ experiences, our district will not hire new staff or implement new programming for fear that they will no longer be sustainable once the federal dollars run out, and there is no plan in place to supplement this funding.
None of the improvements needed in our schools can be done successfully without the necessary personnel, and sadly not much has changed in regards to these issues since last school year. There are so many differentiating factors within the classroom, and the only way we will be able to improve upon or fix the issues within our schools is investment in human capital. We need high quality teachers and high quality support staff to help keep teachers’ workloads manageable. Every child needs support, and that support looks different for each student. We need the personnel that can provide this support across the board–more teachers, social workers, classroom aids, etc. The success of our students depends on it.
Connecticut H.B. 5003 will require the state to expedite the ECS phase in and fully fund education by the time the federal dollars run out, giving our schools the opportunity to provide necessary resources for our students, while also easing the burden that continues to fall onto the shoulders of our educators like myself. We have waited long enough, and there is no time left to procrastinate on the essential need for equitable school funding. Our teachers matter. Our students matter. No matter their zip code, each child’s education matters.
Join me in demanding equitable school funding and supporting the passage of H.B. 5003.
Fred Thornley III is a teacher at Noah Webster Middle School in Hartford