Last week, a lot of ink was spilled regarding the Governor’s proposed budget. There was as much coverage on what was excluded in the proposal (funding for state approved charters in Danbury and Norwalk, ECS, public colleges) as there was about what actually made the cut (workforce and school lunches). The debate goes on, but Governor Lamont’s budget address also touched upon several other priorities in the public education space:
On Thursday, the Associated Press did a piece on the thousands of students across America who stopped attending public schools when COVD-19 hit, and never returned. Across the country, the AP's research estimates that 230,000 students are unaccounted for, a figure that excludes those who signed up for private education or home-schooling, or who moved out of state. The article observes that the narrative has shifted over the course of the pandemic—from concern over these "missing" students to focus on the implications for public education funding when enrollment rates drop. Also on Thursday, The New York Times had a story about how students with disabilities have been losing instructional time as a result of "off-the-book" suspensions—when they're sent home for "having a bad day" without formally recording the dismissal. (Recommend that important read here.)
But at a high-level, the message is that attendance is critical. No matter the school-based policy effort, it cannot reach children who aren’t in the classroom.
Here in Connecticut, we have seen a huge jump in chronic absenteeism (missing at least 10% of instructional time) since the pandemic began. In 2019-20, Connecticut's rate of chronic absenteeism was 12.2%. By 2021-22, that rate had jumped to 23.7%. (See our previous write up on the absenteeism crisis here.)
The Governor's proposed budget includes $7M for the Learner Engagement and Attendance Program (LEAP)—which seeks to address the issue through home visits and relationship-building. Throwback to this story by the CT Mirror on conflicting analyses regarding the effectiveness of the LEAP program.
School Bonding and Affordable Housing Returns
Another priority identified by the Governor is the need to build more affordable housing, so that once the state has invested in a future workforce, people can manage to live and work here. Over the biennium, the Governor projects that his proposal would increase new housing by 6,400 units. In addition, he said he will urge local leaders to develop action plans to adopt more inclusive zoning policies.
Governor, do we have a plan for you! Recognizing that town lines and zoning can determine the quality of a child’s educational opportunities, ERN CT advanced a piece of legislation in 2020 called, "An Act Concerning School Building Project Grants for Inclusive Municipalities." The bill aimed to give bonuses for school construction grants to municipalities that are deemed "inclusive" by the Department of Housing. (Check out ERN CT’s 1-pager on the issue here.)
This year, we are thrilled to see that Senate President Martin Looney has referred a bill to the Education Committee that would "provide reimbursement percentage incentives in the school building project grant program for towns that meet certain affordable housing thresholds." (Proposed SB No. 773.) Watch this space!