Testimony Before the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus
Amy Dowell, Connecticut State Director
Education Reform Now Connecticut
February 25, 2020
Chairman McGee, Vice Chair Reyes, and Members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on the issue of education equity. In the fall of 2019, we released a report, "Less for More," which identified low rates of completion and high costs in many of Connecticut's four-year colleges. One of the major takeaways from the report is that too many Connecticut students—and particularly low income students and students of color—are graduating high school without the necessary skills to succeed in college and career. As the State Director of Education Reform Now CT, I want to highlight for you a few of our 2020 policy agenda items that are designed to improve economic and racial fairness, and that polls indicate have strong support across the Democratic electorate.
Housing, Income Inequality, and Education
This winter, we commissioned a poll of Democratic primary voters, who outnumber Republican voters in Connecticut by a two-to-one margin, revealing significant consensus on many issues important to students and families in our state.
For example, we found that 69% of Democratic primary voters believe having communities divided across racial and socio-economic lines is contributing to the state’s economic challenges. 83% also believe that state and local governments have a responsibility to take action on the issue of affordable housing. In a state where education funding relies heavily on property taxes, we are therefore pushing to link the issues of education access and affordable housing this legislative session. This session, we have proposed a school construction bonus incentive to municipalities that pursue meaningful efforts to build more affordable housing. We think passing this legislation will underscore a growing statewide understanding that housing opportunity and educational access are inextricably tied together.
More Choice for Families
Similarly, our poll found that 71% of Democratic primary voters support increasing public school choice for families, including charter schools, magnets, and career academies. Connecticut citizens understand that school quality is linked to where a family can afford to live, and they know that families deserve more options. This is especially true in Danbury, where a sharp increase in enrollment has caused the community to improvise to meet the needs of their students, and nearly half of all students are Latino. Let’s support the opening of the State Board of Education-approved Danbury Prospect Charter School this year.
We have also worked over the past two years to promote the expansion of the successful Open Choice program. With districts declining in enrollment in many corners of our state, while others grow to capacity, we must provide opportunities for students to attend neighboring districts for their education. Let us make Open Choice a reality this session for students in the Danbury and Waterbury regions.
Keeping Students Safe and Healthy
Lastly, the legislature heard last week from a loud minority of parents who believe their personal convictions about vaccines should continue to exempt them from school immunization requirements. We consider vaccination policy to be a matter of civil rights because families whose children attend public schools should have a right to safe and healthy classrooms as a precondition of learning. Again, our poll shows that there is considerable consensus on this issue, despite the appearance of broader controversy. 77% of Democrats believe that the religious exemption to vaccines should be eliminated so that students must be vaccinated against infectious, deadly, and preventable diseases. Indeed, 95% of all Connecticut parents already follow the convention of the medical community that all children should be vaccinated.
Thank you for continuing to take strong positions together to make Connecticut a more fair place for all students. The results of this data make clear that Connecticut voters want the legislature to put children’s interests first. I look forward to working closely with you on efforts like housing opportunity, school choice, school immunizations, and more—all with an eye towards promoting greater educational equity across our state.