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#FinishTheFormula, The Absenteeism Crisis, The Cost of Free Lunch, and Black History Month

Back in 2017, our affiliate, ERN CT, led bipartisan advocacy efforts to “Fix the Formula” that the state uses to fund public schools. Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, current Education Chairs Rep. Jeff Currey and Senator Doug McCrory, and many legislative leaders oversaw significant and systemic change. The 2-17 updates to the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant made the allocation of the state’s resources more fair by:

  • Adding new weights for student needs;

  • Increasing transparency; and

  • Allocating over $300M per year in new resources to districts.

While most of these dollars are now finding their way into district budgets six years later, the work to make state education resources more equitable is still incomplete. This year, it’s time to #FinishTheFormula, by passing HB 5003—a bill that would bring Connecticut towards a student-centered funding model. The legislation would apportion education dollars based on the needs of public school students, rather than on the type of public school in question. It would also accelerate the final leg of phase-in for education funding, providing long-overdue support to underfunded districts.

On Friday at 10am, a press conference on this important bill will be held at the Capitol by legislative leaders, including:

  • Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney;

  • Speaker of the House Matt Ritter;

  • Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff;

  • House Majority Leader Jason Rojas;

  • Appropriations Committee Co-Chairs Sen. Cathy Osten and Rep. Toni Walker;

  • Education Committee Co-Chairs Sen. Doug McCrory and Rep. Jeff Currey; and

  • Vice Chair of the Black & Puerto Rican Caucus Rep. Antonio Felipe.

Following the event, the Education Committee and Appropriations Committee will jointly hold a public hearing on the bill. You can read Amy’s written testimony here, and submit your own here. Connecticut, let’s Finish the Formula!

The Absenteeism Crisis

This week, the CT Mirror's Jessika Harkay has an important story regarding chronic absenteeism, which has doubled in Connecticut since the start of the pandemic. This academic year, roughly a quarter of public school students have missed at least 10% of instructional time. The article dives into subgroup performances and also reports on mixed results for a state intervention called the Learner Engagement and Attendance Program (LEAP)—which seeks to address the issue through home visits and relationship-building.

We've pulled the last five years of chronic absenteeism data in Connecticut, and the results are quite alarming.

It’s an issue that states are tackling nationwide, as families contend with illnesses, mental health concerns, and other stressors. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 72% of US public schools reported an increase in chronic absenteeism last year.

The Cost of Free Lunch

Last Wednesday, lawmakers postponed an emergency vote that could have extended free lunches for the duration of the school year. As News 12 explains, many parents have relied on these meals since 2020, when they were first covered by the federal government and subsequently continued by the state to the tune of $30M. The program ended in December.

According to End Hunger Connecticut!, one in eight Connecticut children, disproportionately students of color, suffer from hunger. News8’s coverage, however, observes that the cost of continuing to provide the free meals would be about $40M for this year alone.

The New York Times recently reported on how the lapse in such programming can impact families "on the cusp of eligibility." With inflation impacting the rise of consumer and food prices, the end of free school meals has squeezed many families.

There are a lot of competing priorities as legislators craft the biennial budget, but we agree that addressing hunger is a precondition for learning for all kids.

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