Outcry in Hartford Over Lamont Plan to Divert Millions from Education to Child Care

State Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, and State Rep. Jeff Currey, D-East Hartford, spoke at the State Capitol on Feb. 16, 2024, in support of education funding (CT Examiner).


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HARTFORD — Hundreds of educators, legislators, students, child care workers and various community organizations packed into a room at the State Capitol on Thursday, decrying the governor’s plan to shift millions of dollars away from the education budget for child care programs.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s recent budget proposal removes $64.5 million from a $150 million funding block that the legislature set aside last year to help school districts manage the upcoming loss of federal coronavirus relief money. The funds would have been used to help districts pay for tuition for magnet schools and vocational agriculture schools, and to support the Open Choice program. 

Lamont has redirected about $36 million of that funding to pay for an expansion in early childhood education. He has said the dollars should go toward paying for classroom expenses or teacher salaries rather than as a form of “municipal aid.” 

“I am proposing that we use critical state resources to ensure that our state’s children have access to the classroom support they need to succeed. We can accomplish this by increasing ECS funding for our K-12 schools, working with schools to fully expend the $400 million in remaining ARP ESSER funds, and supporting an expansion of early childhood education services,” Lamont said in a statement on Thursday. “The ability of our K-12 education system to succeed depends in great part on the success of our early childhood education system, and we have a desperate need to expand these services, including through the hiring of more teachers.”

But teachers, Republican and Democratic legislators on the legislature’s Education Committee, and a multitude of community organizations disagreed with the governor, criticizing the move as “pitting educational institutions against one another” in a competition for funding.”

Hartford Public Schools Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said Thursday that, under the governor’s proposal, Hartford would have to pay $11 million in tuition to magnet schools and vocational agriculture schools, funds that could otherwise pay for 100 teachers.

“Historically disadvantaged and marginalized communities should no longer face the financial burden of paying other school districts to educate their children,” Torres-Rodriguez said. “For urban districts specifically, the financial burden would be significant, [and] would also have a direct impact on the resources provided directly to our young people.” 

According to an analysis from the School and State Finance Project, the original funding approved by the legislature would have saved districts a total of $37.5 million. The vast majority of that assistance would benefit the state’s 33 lowest-performing districts, which serve a large population of low-income students and children of color. 

“These schools are state schools, and it’s the state’s responsibility to fund them, not our local towns,” State Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, said.

State Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, said the governor’s proposal would result in losing programs and services at a time when students have high levels of mental health and behavioral needs. 

“I know the [Regional Education Service Centers] alone have 13,000 students, and that inequity that existed prior was really hurting those types of magnet schools,” McCarty said. 

State Sen. Eric Berthel, R-Watertown, noted that the vote to put aside $150 million in funding for education was bipartisan, and that the legislature had a responsibility to stand by that decision.

“We made a promise. We have to uphold and keep that promise. That’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s what we’re elected to do,” Berthel said. 

Connecticut Education Association President Kate Dias added that it’s misleading to say that local districts still have large sums of federal funds to help them with expenses. In reality, she said, most of that money has already been allocated to programs or employees over the next two years. 

Even early child care advocates said they didn’t want the funding if it meant pulling it away from K-12 schools.

“The people outside of this room are telling us, ‘Take the money. Run. Where does it matter where it’s coming from? It’s more money for early care. Isn’t that what you want?’ Well, not if it’s on the backs of other children. Not if it’s on the backs of teachers who have sacrificed the K-12 system,” said Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, director of the state’s child care union. “Yes we need money, and we do need it now, but we need to make sure that we have solidarity.” 

State Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, chair of the Early Education Caucus, said she understood that child care was in desperate need of funding. 

“We should not say kindergarten through 12th grade is more important. And we’re not saying that birth to 5 years old is more important. We’re saying that every child is most important,” she said. 

Multiple students from the Capitol Region Education Council, the organization responsible for running a number of magnet schools in the Hartford region, and from ACES, which operates magnet schools in the New Haven region, voiced support for funding their schools. Many expressed gratitude for being able to access specialized programs, while others shared that the schools served as a refuge from the bullying they had encountered at public schools. 

“I love attending Impact Academy because I never fit in anywhere I was placed, and dealt with the constant bullying and harassment directed at me, both physically and mentally,” said Deondrey Martinez, an 11th grader at CREC Impact Academy in Hartford. Martinez said he failed his freshman year during the pandemic, and was poised to fail a second year, when he was referred to CREC. 

“I went in silence, not expecting any difference to my prior school experiences, until I met the wonderful staff and intelligent students that attend this school,” he said. “I wasn’t treated as a student, moreso as a family member. Everyone seemed to care, and they put their full effort into making our small school the best it could be.” 

Region 7 Schools Superintendent Steven LePage, whose district includes Barkhamsted, Colebrook, New Hartford and Norfolk, said in testimony that the governor’s budget would force the schools to continue capping the number of out-of-district students the agriscience program could accept in order to protect themselves from an inordinate amount of tuition payments. 

“We are only able to accept about a quarter to a third of the students who apply from Torrington for our agriscience program because our cap is four per year. We have had years when 15 or 16 students apply and we have to turn them away. That is simply not right and it is denying students and families educational options,” LePage said.

Some parts of the governor’s budget received support, particularly the $11.2 million investment in school meals.

Ashley Carl, a registered dietician at Plainville Public Schools, said the number of low-income students in the district receiving school lunch dropped 10 percent since last year. She claimed the students were opting out because of the stigma attached to reduced and free lunch. 

“While observing lunch waves at the high school, I witnessed a child bullying another student for receiving free meals, and I could sense the embarrassment. It is absolutely heartbreaking watching these students choose not to eat because of the shame they feel receiving a free meal. It is critical we address the shame and inequality surrounding this issue,” Carl said. 

State Rep. Jeff Currey, D-East Hartford, suggested changes could be made to the fiscal guardrails to allow the legislature to fund early child care and keep the $150 million for K-12 schools intact. 

Not investing in education has serious implications when students venture out into the adult world, he said. 

“We are simply moving children out and through our public school system, and just out into the world completely unprepared. And the amount of money it takes to get them back to where they need to be, and should have always been, it’s ridiculous,” Currey said.

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.