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Special Session, Right to Read Underway in 97% of Districts, and School Vouchers Exacerbate Inequities

Special Session Convenes Today

Over the weekend, Governor Lamont, Senate President Looney, and Speaker Ritter released a 10-item agenda for a Special Session that convenes at 11am today. Among the topics to be covered is the restoration of a ban on so-called “self-performance” in state-funded school construction projects. The term describes the practice of construction managers bidding on subcontracts for projects that they themselves manage. 


In light of the recent arrest of former Connecticut school construction chief Konstantinos Diamantis for taking bribes related to construction projects, this issue has become a priority for Governor Lamont. Coverage by CT Insider notes that the Governor wrote a letter to the General Assembly, explaining that, "...'self-performance' can lead to a lack of competition, a lack of transparency, higher costs, a higher risk of self-dealing, and exclusion of smaller subcontractors from the market."


Implementation of “Right to Read” Underway in 97% of All CT Districts

According to a top-of-the-fold Hearst CT article by Alex Putterman that ran across the state on Sunday, "At least in Connecticut, the so-called 'reading wars' appear to have been settled in favor of phonics-based instruction." At this point, the article explains, all but five districts in the entire state have reported to the Connecticut State Department of Education that they are adopting comprehensive plans for early literacy instruction and are on track to comply with the 2021 Right to Read legislation.


The bulk of the article focuses on the state’s success in producing such a high rate of compliance. It gives a special shout-out to Hartford, where administrators rolled out evidence-based early literacy curricula even before the passage of Right to Read. (Although the programs used by Hartford weren't on the initial list of state-approved curricula, Hartford was successful in pursuing a waiver from the state that allows them to continue with their research-backed literacy strategy.) The state has also organized webinars highlighting district implementation and brought in literacy experts to provide districts with training. 


Congratulations to the State Department of Education and the Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success for this exciting work on behalf of CT students. Read it here.


CNN Study Shows School Vouchers Exacerbating Inequities

A new investigation last week by CNN finds that the school voucher program in Arizona—which allows families to spend taxpayer dollars that would have funded public education on private school tuition or homeschooling, instead—has disproportionately benefited wealthier communities and religious education. After Arizona’s “Empowerment Scholarship Account” (ESA) program became universally available to families in 2022, it grew from 12,000 students to 75,000 students. Although it was expected to cost around $64.5M for the 2023-24 school year, the program has actually cost the state about $332M this past year, in part because about half of the participating students never attended public school in the first place. Although the state was not formerly paying for these students’ educations, it now subsidizes their private experiences. In fact, CNN found that about half Arizona’s ESA investment in private schools went to religious institutions.


Notably, private schools are not required to comply with anti-discrimination protections for students or to align with academic standards. According to the Brookings Institution (aligned with research from many, many others - see some below), “the last decade of research on traditional vouchers strongly suggests they actually lower academic achievement.” For instance, the negative impact of school vouchers on academic achievement has been well-documented in Louisiana, Indiana, and Ohio—just to name a few.


The DFER CT takeaway: Giving parents more public school choice is critical, but if it’s funded by taxpayers, choice needs to be accompanied by strong state and federal oversight to ensure both high academic standards and civil rights protections.


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