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Sine Die: Education Wins in CT!


What a session!


At midnight last night, the House and Senate adjourned "Sine Die," marking the end of a busy 2023 legislative session. CT News Junkie has a great summary of the recently passed biennium budget, which covers fiscal years 2024 and 2025. During debates preceding votes in both chambers, legislators observed that the $51.1 billion budget was imperfect, producing both winners and losers, but that they were sticking to stringent state spending caps.

In education appropriations, the level of support provided for the state's public colleges and universities is insufficient and could leave them in dire straits. But for K-12 funding, there were lots of winners. The budget accelerates the existing phase-in of a fully funded Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula passed in 2017 by two years, by adding another $150 million to be allocated across public school districts and schools of choice.

For public charter schools, the budget continues to phase-in a funding schedule that is weighted per student, and it provides for two new charter schools. Magnet schools, AgriScience programs, and Open Choice will also see increases within this $150 million allocation.


(And speaking of winners… the budget also holds harmless towns that were due to be phased out under the 2017 ECS formula.)

Two policy ideas from our affiliate, Education Reform Now CT (ERN CT)—regarding pensions and affordable housing were also included. They address some of the many systemic inequities, beyond ECS grants, that impact educational opportunity for students.

We are thrilled that ERN CT managed to see most of its legislative priorities for this year passed. Below are some of the major victories of 2023!

 

☑️ A Taskforce to Study the Per Pupil Equity of Teacher Pensions

In 2021, ERN CT and Equable Institute released a report showing how the state reinforces educational inequities by fully funding local teacher pension obligations—which are largely based on the disparate salary schedules set by districts in this manner. Passed last night, HB 6880 establishes a task force to study the per pupil equity of funding the teachers’ retirement system. We are proud that this long-term effort will commence in Connecticut, bringing stakeholders to the table to work out a deeply entrenched and complex resource equity challenge.

Connecticut is now the first state in the nation to consider this new policy concept, which, by law, tasks the state with evaluating the resource equity implications of teacher pension funding on a per pupil basis.

 

☑️ Ban the "Transcript Trap" in Higher Ed

Public Act 23-14, also a result of research conducted by ERN CT, officially prohibits Connecticut institutions of higher education from withholding a students' transcript from a prospective employer due to unpaid student debt. This discriminatory practice disproportionately targets low-income students. By withholding their credentials even when they have only small amounts of debt, it impedes their ability to either claim credits or repay what they owe.

ERN CT's research found that 100% of Connecticut four-year colleges engage in this punitive practice, one that is now banned in this state!

 

☑️ Protect Landmark "Right to Read" Law

SB 1, the Senate’s premier education bill, included minor revisions to the state's "Right to Read" law—ERN CT’s top advocacy priority from 2021. As this legislation finally gets implemented, some have been resistant to these changes. ERN CT successfully defended this legislation this year, killing bills that would have undone this progress. Instead, the legislature passed this bill with ERN CT’s support, as well as the endorsement of the State Dep. of Ed. It makes minor revisions to implementation timelines so that districts can more effectively shift towards evidence-based early literacy practices.

This bill represents a deep commitment on the part of legislative leadership to the Right to Read coalition, as well as the notion that: “Every student has a right to read, and there’s a right way to teach them.” A great victory for students, parents, and educators!

 

☑️ Linking Housing Opportunity + Ed Opportunity


After many ups and downs, and a nearly 10-hour filibuster in the Senate on the final day of session, a bill concept that ERN CT has worked on for five years saw passage. Within SB 998 is an intersectional policy, developed in partnership with our allies in housing advocacy, linking affordable housing access with educational opportunity. The bill says that if the Department of Housing determines that a municipality is "inclusive,” then the school district becomes eligible for a five percentage point increase to the rate of reimbursement for school construction projects. The aim is to incentivize building more affordable housing and inclusive communities.While a small drop in the ocean of work that the state must do to address insufficient housing, we consider it a significant win that the legislature acknowledges these deeply connected priorities.

​By linking housing and school construction, this bill addresses yet another way that—beyond levels of direct school funding—structural inequities lead to unjust levels of educational opportunity.

 

☑️ Expand Public School Choice

The biennium budget moves charter schools closer to fully funded per-student weights (although falling short of getting all-the-way there). This bill shifts the charter grant adjustment from 25.42% in FY 2023 to 36.08% in FY 2024 and 56.7% for FY 2025 and beyond. In all, charter schools in Connecticut will see a $15 million increase over two years.The budget also adds additional funding for two new charter schools in Norwalk and New Haven. Disappointingly, the proposed charters for Danbury and Middletown were left out, but the addition of any new schools, for the first time in nearly a decade, is true progress. Special shout-out to our partners at the Connecticut Charter Schools Association (CTCSA), for their advocacy and leadership this session. Read their statement on the budget here.

​This policy win represents rapid and significant change in Connecticut, where the school choice sector has been slowly building for so long. This year—with increased funding, commitment to growth, and numerous public statements of support from legislative leaders about the importance of choice—Connecticut has moved towards a position of broad support for public charter schools and the families who want to attend them.

 

And last but not least… WE WANT TO THANK our DFER Champions in the legislature for their commitment and extensive work on behalf of Connecticut students.

A special shout out to Majority Leaders Senator Duff and Representative Rojas, Education Chairs Senator McCrory and Representative Currey, Higher Education Chairs Senator Slap and Representative Haddad, Black and Puerto Rican Caucus Chair Senator Miller and Vice Chair Representative Felipe.



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