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AccelerateCT; Biden Prioritizes Equity; and the Remaining Agenda for Students this Session

This weekly segment by Democrats for Education Reform CT looks at the top education stories Democrats are watching, providing bite-sized analysis and links to recent articles. On the roster this week: CSDE Releases AccelerateCT Guidance; Biden Budget Prioritizes Racial Equity; and What's Left on the Agenda this Session for CT Students?

AccelerateCT - But How?

Yesterday, the Connecticut State Department of Education released a new "AccelerateCT" framework—or an outline to jumpstart district plans for recovery. The introduction puts a positive spin on pandemic learning, urging Connecticut to get out of a "deficit mindset" concerning learning loss. The AccelerateCT guidance recommends that districts conduct a careful review of their data, disaggregated by demographics, and conduct a strength-based needs assessment to understand where they are. It also suggests an “impact and effort matrix” to prioritize their own strategies, and introduces the "CSDE Acceleration Cycle”—a five-step process to prioritize and plan. So, assuming this is a table setting, will there be more specifics and directives coming for districts to help students recover following this trying time?

The last year has been grueling for most—and tragic for too many. Districts have endured juggling different types of learning schedules and environments; emotional toll and loss; establishing new health protocols; incorporating technology and trainings; filling out applications for state and federal resources; and a labyrinth of paperwork and reporting. We are hopeful to see in the next guidance from the state more concrete applications for relief funds. In the interest of reducing inequities during this period of education recovery, the state must provide actionable steps, consistent across all districts.

As an example, in March, Massachusetts' "Plan for Phased Return to In-Person Learning" highlighted areas of statewide focus to address unfinished learning: Spring would be committed to mental health supports, FAFSA completion, and supports for seniors who had not met requirements. Summer would prioritize standing up robust summer school programming and interventions. Fall would be a return to grade-level content with scaffolding for all learners. In April, Massachusetts also issued updated guidance formally requiring all schools to use full-time, in-person learning models by specified dates. These plans are clear, explicit, and identify precisely the actions that are expected of all local education agencies and schools. Instead of offering districts scores of options, the CSDE would likewise benefit from identifying its own top priorities and leading the way.

Biden Goes Big on Equity

The $6 trillion national budget proposed by President Biden on Friday included $20 billion in incentives to combat school funding inequities and raise teacher pay. The proposed "equity grants" would increase Title I allocations from $16B to $36.5B to address state funding models that "favor wealthier districts over districts with concentrated poverty." According to a The New York Times this weekend, this is all part of a conscientious effort by the Biden administration to focus on how taxes are distributed across racial groups. The administration's "equity agenda" means that no single department is tasked with the pursuit of racial equity, but rather that intentionally targeting equity is built into each department’s spending plan. The administration’s budget is unlikely to be fully enacted as is, but it cements a clear set of priorities as Congress begins to negotiate a final budget.

What's Left on the Agenda this Session for Students?

With only seven days until sine die, a complicated negotiation on budget underway, and few consequential pieces of education legislation remaining before the legislature—you might be left wondering: what resources will CT invest in students this session? Here are several noteworthy bills worth watching:

  • An Act Declaring Racism as a Public Health Crisis, passed the House yesterday and the Senate last week, folded into Senate Bill 1. The bill requires data collection on race and ethnicity in health care, as well as in state agencies, boards and commissions. It will also establish a commission on racial equity in public health to look at the impact of racism on various state programs and provide recommendations. Notably, the bill specifies indicators for tracking the reduction in racial disparities across the state, including in the area of education.

  • SB 1034, An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment and Retention has passed out of the Senate and would establish a new "Minority Candidate Certification, Retention, or Residency Year" program, administered by the CSDE. It would also promote the teaching profession as a career option to high schoolers, and require video training on implicit bias and anti-bias for district staff in hiring decisions. 40% of Connecticut students are students of color, and all students deserve access to diverse educators as role models.

  • HB 6509, An Act Concerning School-Based Mental Health Clinics has passed the House. It would have the Department of Public Health conduct a study to identify school districts that lack accessible mental health resources for students, and integrate school-based mental health clinics there. (Last week, we concentrated on the enormous impact that the pandemic has had on students' mental health. If you missed that write up, find it here.)

  • H.B. 6620, the Right to Read Bill, which seeks to establish an evidence-based, statewide strategy to address early literacy, is a bill we hope will pass soon. It would provide evidence-based interventions in high-need districts, establish oversight over early literacy programs in all districts, offer aligned professional development, and coordinate with teacher preparation programs. Moreover, the education relief dollars from the federal government are eligible to be directed towards this program.

Here’s to a bold and productive last week for CT students!

Countdown to Sine Die


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