Berthel Joins Bipartisan Effort to Combat Inequality in Public Schools

January 11, 2021

Sen. Berthel: “…provide them [students] with the best opportunity for success going forward. I don’ think there is a Democrat or Republican viewpoint on that.”

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

In their first official meeting of the year, leaders of the legislature’s education committee highlighted combating inequality, building students’ social and emotional skills and increasing teacher diversity as key issues to address this session, along with maintaining bipartisan collaboration among lawmakers.

Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford and Senate chair of the committee, said they are looking to do four or five large, “aircraft carrier bills, with as much good stuff in there as possible.”

“But we do want to narrow our focus on certain things … that make sure our children have the resources they need once this pandemic is over,” he said.

An educator of nearly 30 years, McCrory acknowledged the learning loss many students have suffered since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago, stating students must have the proper resources in place as the state moves forward.

Rep. Robert Sanchez, D-New Britain and House chair of the committee, pointed out that Connecticut has had educational inequalities long before COVID-19, although the pandemic brought more attention to them.

“At the end of the day, I want to make sure that every child in the state of Connecticut gets the same education — quality education,” he said. “That’s important and I think that’s what we’re all about on the education committee.”

Rep. Kathleen McCarty of Waterford, the top House Republican on the committee, voiced support for a long-term plan to address educational disparities.

“I also believe that social-emotional learning has to be at the top of our priorities, looking at restorative practices, and really working with the other stakeholders as we look at a comprehensive plan,” she said.

Sen. Eric Berthel, R-Watertown and the committee’s ranking Senate Republican, said lawmakers have a “great opportunity ahead of us as we emerge from COVID, whenever that is, to ensure that together we do the best things for our public school children in Connecticut.”

“That is to get them properly realigned, make sure we’re properly assessing where they’re at as a result of what we have all been enduring over the course of almost a year now, and that we provide them with the best opportunity for success going forward,” he said, noting committee members’ past successes in reaching across the aisle. “I don’t think there is a Democrat or Republican viewpoint on that.”

McCrory called social and emotional learning “extremely important,” along with the enhancing state curriculum. He added that efforts to continue diversifying Connecticut’s teacher population are “critical.”

According to the Office of Legislative Research, while the state’s public educator population is about 90% white, nearly half of Connecticut public school students are children of color. Last year, the education committee raised a bill on the issue that would have created residency programs for nonwhite teacher candidates in the state’s lowest-performing districts. In a recent report on major issues for the 2021 session, researchers said lawmakers “may take up similar legislation again or consider additional measures, such as further expansion of higher education loan reimbursements for minority teachers.”

During a late December meeting, McCrory told pastors from around the state that while he will continue to take up the issue of school funding inequities, “it’s not always about the money.”

He said the top factor in improving outcomes for Black and brown students, and those from marginalized communities, “is the teacher.”

“The data shows that when there is a teacher of color in the classroom, the student’s active achievement levels increase. That’s a fact,” he said. “I’m all for the funding … but more important to me is having a professional in that classroom who is culturally competent, and is dedicated to making sure our children learn.”

The education committee is also expected to discuss the continuation and expansion of teacher certification flexibilities adopted by the State Board of Education in order to address staffing shortages caused by COVID-19, legislative researchers said. School superintendents have repeatedly said staffing issues are one of the main reasons they have to move schools — and sometimes entire districts — to online-only learning.