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Legislative Update, and Supreme Court Considers Student Loan Relief

Legislative Update

Two months into the legislative session, there has been a lot of action on the issue of educational equity. Here are some of the key bills that have been progressing through the legislative process so far:

Resource Equity: This year, numerous supporters of a student-centered model for school funding are calling on the legislature to "finish the formula," building upon an effort to improve the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula that began in 2017. H.B. 5003 would accelerate the full phase-in of ECS funding, providing relief to underfunded districts, and we think its passage is past due. You can read testimony from our affiliate, ERN CT, here.

We'll also be monitoring S.B. 1, "An Act Concerning Transparency in Education." Its stated purpose is to provide equal and comprehensive access to education and academic opportunities for all children in Connecticut. Sounds promising.

Public School Choice: This morning, the Education Committee is holding a public hearing that covers several bills, including one that would significantly improve the current process of authorizing new public charter schools. (SB 1096.)

Over the years, the process has become overly complicated, and it can mire a community that needs a solution quickly in long-term, political red tape. Last year, ERN CT and the CT Charter Schools Association drafted a 1-pager explaining the issue. You can read it here.

This bill would rebalance authorizations by allowing the State Board of Education to grant a charter directly, eliminating a 2-step process. It would also establish a non-lapsing account in the general fund to seed the initial funding of a newly approved charter so that it doesn't get lost in the politics of identifying state funding after it has already been given the green light.

Literacy: Building upon the Right to Read bill that was passed in 2021, SB 1094 is a bill that would strengthen and improve some of the deadlines for districts. While getting literacy right is a matter of urgency, the process involves careful implementation, not haste. Districts and educators need the time and support to work collaboratively and effectively on the Science of Reading, so we’re highly supportive of this shift in the timeline. SB 1094 is up for public hearing before the Education Committee today as well, and you can read ERN CT’s testimony here.

Higher Education: A serious issue during a budget session is the amount of state-support that will be allocated to the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System (CSCUS). The Governor's proposed budget (HB 6659) would continue the debt-free community college program, but would effectively decrease aid to higher education units overall across the biennium. ERN CT submitted testimony opposing this idea, arguing that now is the time to invest in institutions of higher education, especially because we already have a crisis of affordability and access. (Check it out here.)

Just last week, in fact, the Higher Education Committee drafted a Committee bill regarding affordability, graduation rates, and student health in colleges (SB 8). One of its goals is to increase financial support to the state colleges and universities so that they can enhance services to students and improve graduation rates. It will be the subject of a public hearing tomorrow, and we’ll be watching.

Yesterday, the Higher Education Committee also JF'd a bill (SB 922) that would prohibit institutions of higher education from withholding student transcripts from prospective employers as a means of debt collection. It’s an issue that ERN CT has been promoting for a couple of years because the cruel practice disproportionately targets students of limited means and perpetuates cycles of poverty. We call it the “Transcript Trap,” and you can learn more about it here. Kudos to Co-Chairs Senator Slap and Representative Haddad, who were vocal about why this bill is important.

Supreme Court Considers Student Loan Relief

Yesterday, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the two challenges to President Biden's plan for student debt relief. CNN had a good summary of the cases in question and the legal themes that emerged during the oral arguments. NPR's coverage also describes the theory by which the Biden administration had sought to advance this program, under the HEROES Act, which authorizes the secretary of education to modify any provision regarding student loans during a national emergency.

The Court's decision, expected in June, will impact millions of borrowers who could see $10,000-$20,000 of their debts canceled. According to the CT Mirror, over 321,000 Connecticut borrowers applied for the relief before the lawsuits stopped the US Department of Education from accepting applications. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong joined other attorneys general across the country in backing the administration, arguing that failure to follow through now would cause students to default on their debts as they try to recover from the pandemic.

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