By Amy Dowell, State Director of DFER-Connecticut
Many of us have been watching unfolding events in Hartford during the budget negotiation with a mix of frustration and disappointment. From DFER- CT’s perspective, we view this process through the lens of how this standstill will affect public school children here in Connecticut. The latest Republican budget, voted on Friday, does little to level the funding playing field for students in struggling districts, does not include all public school students in one fair formula, and will likely not satisfy the pending lawsuit, CCJEF v Rell. We are continuing to ask State leaders to fix what is broken, do what is right, and make the necessary compromises that will benefit the greater good.
After the court ruling last September, I wrote an op-ed HERE that focused on the opportunity for Democrats to lead on changing the way we fund public education in Connecticut. I have spent my time this legislative session and into this extended budget negotiation talking to many elected Democrats about the vital importance of an inclusive, weighted for need, transparent, predictable and progressive formula for funding all our public schools. This is good for our students and for the future of our state. It remains an issue of equity, civil rights, and an example of the social commitment Democrats have been making with our communities for decades.
This is not an endorsement of what we have seen so far in the big picture, however I am encouraged by the efforts of some leaders, including the Governor, the Senate Majority Leader, and many members of the House. While real change happens in the Legislature with consensus, many members have spent the time and the bandwidth (yes, they are also working on some other pressing issues this year…) to discuss, learn, and advocate on behalf of a new funding formula and Connecticut’s highest need students. Many of whom had never previously engaged in education issues. The bench we have been building over the last many years is starting to fill with new leaders.
In the proposals that have been developed this session, be it Senator Duff’s SB2 or the Governor’s most recent budget plan, we have seen the first drafts of what could be possible for our schools. Let’s be real, in this economically challenging time, we likely won’t get to perfect, but aspects of these proposals are headed in the direction we need to go.
We do not know how this budget stalemate ends. For the sake of students and the families of Connecticut, we hope it is soon. Right now, the door is still open for a meaningful funding formula for our state and increased resources for the schools and students that need them most. We will not throw our hands up and say this is hopeless, we will stay at the table until the end and advocate on behalf of all Connecticut students. There is work to do.