Capitol Connection: Doing More for Education

May 7, 2014

A resilient and comprehensive education system is crucial to strengthening our communities. This legislative session, lawmakers have worked hard to better education, most notably passing significant legislation to make quality preschool more accessible. However, there are still many areas where we fall short, and these gaps need to be acknowledged.

The Connecticut state Senate recently approved legislation to establish the Office of Early Childhood Education and to expand pre-Kindergarten offerings throughout the state. While I support this legislation and voted in favor of the bills, I also proposed multiple amendments that would have further strengthened our education system. Unfortunately, these amendments were rejected by the majority party.

While everyone is celebrating the ultimate passage of the pre-K legislation, it is also important that we not forget those proposed amendments, and recognize what could have been and what can still be improved in the future.

One of the amendments I proposed would have required the state to fully fund the Special Education Excess Cost Grant formula, before funding new pre-K programming. Based on this formula, the state owes approximately $30 million to schools to help pay for special education needs. The state is responsible for funding special education costs if they exceed 4 ½ times the costs of providing education to non-special needs students. These needs are significant, but the state has capped spending within the formula, leaving many schools in deficit. I believe that we should fully fund special education needs before we start any new education projects.

Another proposed amendment would have made it a priority to fund pre-K in Sheff schools in the greater Hartford area. These schools are part of a program which allows Hartford students to attend schools in suburban school districts, and brings suburban students into Hartford to attend magnet schools. The program is designed to promote integration, ensuring that minorities are equally represented and have access to diverse education environments. The Sheff region was established after a 1989 lawsuit led to the Sheff v. O’Neill Connecticut Supreme Court case and a landmark ruling regarding civil rights and education. Connecticut has come a long way since then, but we still have not met our goal of fully equalizing the education opportunities for students in Hartford. As we move forward with new education programs, we must focus especially on the Sheff schools to continue promoting equality.

I believe that accessible pre-K education is very important to closing the achievement gap. Studies have even shown that for every dollar we invest in early childhood education, taxpayers save seven dollars over the course of K-12 education. However, there are many education programs that need additional attention which we cannot forget. Special education and education equality must be part of the bigger conversation.