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Open Letter to Education Commissioner Cardona

Dear Commissioner Cardona,

Congratulations on your new role. As a Connecticut public school parent and education advocate, I am looking forward to your tenure and the productive years you will spend leading our state’s incredible schools and students.

This year, state leaders took important steps to resolve the budget deficit and address critical issues like raising the minimum wage and enacting paid family medical leave. These new initiatives begin to address some of the challenges many families in Connecticut face. As an extension of the effort to build stronger communities in our state, we must address inequality in our public education system. It’s time to provide equal opportunity for students across school district lines.

If we genuinely believe that all students deserve an opportunity to succeed in our state, then equity has to be at the heart of our education system. In 2017, Connecticut passed landmark legislation to reform our school finance system, making it more fair with new weights for student needs. But we still have more work to do. All of our public schools, including magnet and charters, have students in them who deserve to have their educations funded equitably.

Additionally, we are in an era in which we must stretch every education dollar. It is time to thoughtfully investigate how our school districts can share services to create greater classroom opportunities at lesser expense- and then push to implement these efforts. Expanding Open Choice, for example, can help districts to alleviate overcrowding while providing families with more options. Another solution is to incentivize districts with shrinking student populations to keep their local school identities while realizing economies of scale and offering high standards and more robust student programs. Either way, the principle is the same: Connecticut needs to move beyond the status quo and take a serious, detailed look at how best to leverage its education dollars, with an eye toward both equity and maximizing outcomes for all students.

Looking within the classrooms, our educators serve as role models for their students, and all students benefit when their teachers reflect the diversity of this state and nation. This past legislative session, the Governor, Education Chairs Doug McCrory and Bobby Sanchez, and the General Assembly took important steps to ensure that the diversity of our teaching population reflects the diversity of the students that fill our classrooms. They set ambitious statewide benchmarks for hiring a more diverse educator workforce, and they set aside funding for a minority educator loan reimbursement program. But diversifying our teaching workforce will not happen overnight, or simply by setting aspirational goals. Rather, we need to address this complex issue through a comprehensive plan to target the various stages of a teacher’s career so that we can recruit, prepare, retain, and sustain a high-quality and diverse workforce. This means adopting strategies that will work in tandem--encouraging bright young minds to enter the teaching profession, overcoming financial barriers that disproportionately hinder candidates of color, and increasing accountability for our educator preparation programs. Let’s make Minority Teacher Recruitment more than just a slogan; let’s make it a system.

Commissioner, we know that you have learned firsthand about the challenges that lie ahead-- from your own educational experience, to your distinguished career as an educator, to your leadership of the Achievement Gap Task Force. As you charged superintendents this past week, together we must avoid the “normalization of failure.” There will always be a chorus of critics trying to lock some people out of opportunity. But setting the academic bar high for all students, maintaining a standard of excellence for every school in every district, and making every student feel safe and supported are the keys.

We know that the onus is not on you alone, but on all of us, to make a meaningful change.


Amy Dowell

Democrats for Education Reform CT

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