Education Update

May 23, 2013

While the gap in student achievement between Connecticut’s highest and lowest performing schools is the largest in the country, there are many Connecticut school districts who are working hard to close this gap and have much to be proud of.

The recent ranking of the nation’s high schools published by U.S. News & World Report, Connecticut is distinguished with 11 Gold Medal schools*, 24 Silver Medal schools, and 4 Bronze Medal schools. Of the top 10 half were in the 26th district. Weston, Ridgefield, Wilton High Schools along with Joel Barlow High School in Redding and Staples High School in Westport were recognized.

In keeping with our school reform efforts there have been several Education bills that have been voted on during this legislative session that I would like to update you on.

House bill 6648, AN ACT CONCERNING THE BOARD OF REGENTS FOR HIGHER EDUCATION. This bill is in response to the scandals involving the President of the Board of Regents (BOR). This bill removes the Governor from the process of hiring the President of the BOR. An amendment I co-sponsored will also now require the BOR for Higher Education and UCONN to come before the legislature and state their budget expectations, revenues and expenditures.

Senate bill 869, AN ACT CONCERNING THE STUDENT ADVISORY COMMITTEE TO THE BOARD OF REGENTS FOR HIGHER EDUCATION. This bill would allow a student from Charter Oak State College to be eligible for a position as chair or vice chair of the student advisory committee.

Senate bill 1002, AN ACT CONCERNING COMMUNITY SCHOOLS. This bill would establish full service community schools in alliance districts with the goal of bringing together community partners to provide important student and family services at such schools.

The budget approved by the Appropriations Committee – which I opposed – eliminates funding for public and non-public school transportation by some $28 million per year. The Governor’s proposed budget also eliminated funding for school transportation. For instance, the town of Bethel would see a loss of $83,391 FY 13 in the proposed Appropriations budget vs. $68,089 FY 13 in the Governor’s proposed budget.

I am very concerned about the proposed cuts to school transportation funding. Our state made a promise to protect funding for special education and school transportation. Now we see that this promise is being undone. In eliminating the transportation subsidy, both the Governor’s and the Committees’ proposals will replace the state allocation with a competitive grant program.

The $5 million in competitive funding is meant to incentivize districts to regionalize transportation services. However, a collation of educators and town leaders and I agree, that the cost benefits suggested in this proposal would not materialize. Impracticalities would arise. Schools would need to merge so that bus runs could be reduced. If the numbers of schools would remain the same in a new region, the number of buses would remain the same unless there was a significant reduction in school populations. It is also unreasonable to expect children as young as five years old to ride a bus for as long as 2 hours if economies of scale could be truly realized.

Many Superintendents, educators, and Board of Education members are following our state’s education reform closely. I will continue to update you as other pieces of legislation concerning our schools come through the General Assembly.

As ranking member of both the Higher Education and Education Committees, I am always available to discuss these issues with you. The future of our state depends on a quality skilled and educated work force.