... And we’re back! Happy New Year! This weekly segment by Democrats for Education Reform CT looks at the top education stories Democrats are watching, providing bite-sized analysis and links to recent articles. On the BIG roster this week: the start of the 2021 legislative session, affordable housing efforts, and Georgia going blue.
2021 Session Kicks off in Hartford Today!
Connecticut’s new legislature was sworn in this morning, with Democrats controlling both the House (98-53) and the Senate (23-12, pending a special election in Stamford). As COVID-19 is still surging, this session will look a little bit different, with much of today’s ceremony taking place over Zoom and out-of-doors. A virtual session means both that the legislature will consider fewer bills this year and that the public will need access to computers or phones to participate in hearings and testimony. But by spring, depending on the rate of vaccination, it's possible that procedures could return to normal.
For our part, we intend to focus on 4 main priorities this session: (1) The Right to Read: Our plan to improve literacy through professional development and interventions based on the Science of Reading. (H/T Rep. Pat Miller.) (2) Equity and Access: Policies to break down the barriers and create learning opportunities for students across town lines. Think: Open Choice and affordable housing. (More on this in the next story below.) (3) Healthy Schools: Ensuring that schools can stay open safely and removing non-medical exemptions for long established vaccines (this time with limited phase-in). (4) Fair Funding for All: Policies designed to address resource equity—by establishing a single funding formula for all types of schools, and by funding Danbury Prospect, which was approved by the State Board of Education in 2018. Given the exacerbated inequities caused by the pandemic, these priorities are more timely than ever and deserve inclusion in the legislature’s agenda.
The Intersectionality of Housing and Education
On Monday, Jacqueline Rabe Thomas of the CT Mirror wrote a great story about the intersectionality of affordable housing in Connecticut and education access. Her article discusses two models for tackling segregation in our state: Open Choice and affordable housing. Both have moved slowly, relying upon voluntary participation by majority white suburban communities. Meanwhile—beyond the considerable resources the state devotes to ECS funding for public education—each year the state also devotes hundreds of millions for school construction projects to communities, regardless of need. This led us to the development of a new idea in partnership with Majority Leader Jason Rojas: to make incentive bonuses for school construction available as a carrot for wealthy municipalities that take on meaningful affordable housing initiatives. We called it the MORE Act, and Rep. Rojas introduced the legislation last year, right before COVID brought the session to a halt. In our forum last summer on systemic racism and education, he discussed how this bill would have linked education and housing needs. The collaboration was also featured as a case study in Tipping Point, a conference hosted by the Partnership for Strong Communities. We expect the progress to continue this session.