The Condition of Education in CT
On March 2nd, Commissioner of Education Charlene M. Russell-Tucker submitted to the State Board of Education an annual report describing the progress of the public education system in the 2020-21 school year. Among the startling findings in the report are that:
Student enrollment decreased by 3% over the past year – a decline that the state usually sees over a five-year period. Notably, the State Department of Education had anticipated a bounce back in enrollment figures once schools returned to in-person learning, a prediction that has not borne out.
Chronic absenteeism grew from 12.2% to 19%, disproportionately among high-need student populations.
Despite an overall decrease in enrollment, the student population is increasingly diverse, with more than half of students identifying as students of color for the first time ever. In contrast, only 10% of educators are now non-white (up from only 8.1% in 2014-15).
Some individual districts, including public charters, have also seen substantial increases, in spite of the overall enrollment decline.
The percent of high school grads who pursue college degrees dropped from 72% to 67%.
Of particular note was a section on student learning models during the pandemic. Low-income students were twice as likely to have been in a remote model. And those who lost the least ground academically were enrolled in-person.
Ed Committee Approves Sheff Settlement After Strong Debate
On Monday, the legislature's Education Committee voted to approve the Sheff v. O'Neill settlement via House Resolution No. 4 and Senate Resolution No. 4. But members of the Committee made crystal clear both that they felt their hands were tied, and that the settlement fails to meaningfully address educational inequities statewide.
Co-Chair Senator Doug McCrory received significant coverage for speaking up. The CT Mirror highlights his concern that the settlement belies a broader need in communities across the state. The Hartford Courant further quotes him as observing that, "Not one person who signed and crafted this agreement lives in Hartford, or sends their child to the Hartford Public School system, and that’s sad." In a tense exchange with the Acting Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management during Friday’s public hearing–Senator Gary Winfield also expressed frustration that state officials were presenting legislators with a false choice: either approve the settlement, or subject the state to continued decision-making through the courts.
Higher Ed Committee Takes a Stand on College Accessibility
On Thursday, the Higher Education Committee voted favorably on substitute language for HB 5034, a bill that would ban the use of legacy preferences, the practice of giving an admissions advantage to college applicants who are related to alumni. By favoring students whose families have historical connections to colleges, the practice perpetuates systemic discrimination along racial and socio-economic lines. In its original form, the legislative ban would have targeted public and private institutions, but the substitute language removes private colleges from the bill. In their comments during the vote, Senator Will Haskell and Representative Gary Turco both expressed their hope that private colleges will self-regulate on this issue.
Members of the Committee also held their third public hearing yesterday, with an agenda that included a bill to prohibit institutions of higher education from withholding students' transcripts when they have unpaid debts. ERN CT’s written testimony noted that this practice both obstructs students from securing gainful employment and disproportionately impacts low-income students, who sometimes need to accumulate debts in order to invest in their futures. The only opposition testimony came from colleges that use these so-called “transcript traps” themselves. Some claimed that Connecticut legislators ought to wait for impending federal action on this issue. But in her oral testimony, Amy called them out for this delaying tactic; it’s actually a very narrow proposal at the federal level at this point. According to DC-based think tank New America, the issue was not even on the formal agenda as of yesterday.