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What the Gov’s Budget Says About Our Values, Biden on Reopening Schools, + College Affordability

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 roster this week: What the Governor’s Budget Address Says About Our Values, Biden on Reopening Schools, and Addressing College Affordability.

Our Budget, Our Values

Today, Governor Lamont gave his Budget Address, offering a number of productive ideas for education in the state. His proposal calls for several initiatives that would make college more accessible and affordable for students. (More on that below.) In addition, it would promote school choice by increasing per pupil funding for charter schools and funding a pilot expansion of the Open Choice program in Danbury and Norwalk.

However, the plan also proposes sending $400 million in federal emergency relief funds to low-performing districts, while simultaneously postponing the delivery of previously approved increases to the state’s Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formulawhich were due to start rolling out in 2021-22. In response, we released a press statement in which Amy encouraged the state not to use federal dollars to supplant state funds that have been promised to districts and to their students. A CT Mirror article from January indicates that the state's rainy day fund is large enough already to cover budget shortfalls over the next two years without being depleted. How we move forward next should be a testament to how much we value our best resource, our students.

Will Biden Hesitate on Reopening?

This week, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky was vocal about reopening schools, saying repeatedly that vaccinating teachers was not a prerequisite. Her statement follows the end-of-January release of a CDC article for Journal of the American Medical Association that said, "with proper prevention efforts... we can keep transmission in schools and education settings quite low."

President Biden has pledged to get most students back to in-person learning in his first 100 days. However, many local unions are saying that reopening schools is predicated upon distributing vaccines to teacherspublicly putting the President in the position of choosing between the unions and the science. In fact, White House press secretary Jen Psaki downplayed the CDC Director's comments, saying that Walensky was speaking in her "personal capacity" on vaccination requirements. Yesterday, Psaki also added that the administration would consider schools to be open within 100 days if they taught in person for at least one day a week. This is a bar that Shavar Jeffries, ERN's National President, says "utterly fails to meet students' needs."

After a Trump era that was heavily punctuated by science denial and discrediting of health experts, we hope to see the Biden administration follow the science and data about what is safe and best for students. The administration is expected to release new guidelines about how to safely reopen schools this week.

Lamont and Legislators Tackle High Costs of Higher Ed

As mentioned above, Governor Lamont has proposed several smart policies to address college affordability and access, including a bill to make the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) mandatory for high school students. If passed, such a bill would help make college more affordable for students who might not know about these available federal funds. Notably, this proposal was part of the CT Senate Democrats' 2020 agenda last legislative session, led by Senator Will Haskell before COVID-19 hit. A second savvy proposal from the Lamont administration involves automatic admission to the Connecticut State Universities for students who meet select criteria. We think that receiving an admissions letter to an affordable in-state college might alert high-achieving students to an opportunity they may not have otherwise considered.

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