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Ed Committee Considers Teacher Shortages; Magnets and Open Choice to Address Racial Segregation

Ed Committee Considers Studies on Teacher Shortages

It was another marathon public hearing day for the Education Committee on Monday. Among numerous important issues (agenda here), legislators heard from the public on bills designed to address educator certification, diversity, and professional development. For example, SB 273, An Act Concerning Teacher Certification, would require the State Department of Education to review the existing teacher certification statutes and regulations. The goal is to remove obsolete requirements, in favor of flexibility to recruit and certify teachers who can meet student's academic needs. The Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity & Opportunity testified that this is an important undertaking, particularly as the state is facing a glaring teacher shortage. Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker, however, testified that the State Department of Education does not have appropriate staffing levels to undertake this charge. Another bill, SB 274, An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment and Retention, followed a similar theme; it joins a long line of bills seeking to improve the diversity of the teaching workforce–but this time by establishing a study to evaluate the effectiveness of past efforts. Another bill, HB 5323, An Act Establishing a Working Group to Examine Ways to Consolidate or Eliminate Certain Professional Development and In-Service Training Requirements for Educators, elicited a genuine question from Representative Jeff Currey: Didn’t we have a similar working group and/or report that came out previously?

If you too are having déjà vu–you’re not alone. Bills like these get raised year-over-year because overly complicated and prescriptive certification processes are a serious problem in the state, contributing to a deficit of new teachers and teachers of color. In fact, they’re a problem nationwide. Yesterday, Madeline Will from EducationWeek published a story about how fewer people are pursuing teaching degrees–citing concerns about pay, working conditions, shortages, and pandemic-related stress. Nationally, 80% of teachers are white, even though only half of all public school students are.

For our part, we support this session’s legislative efforts in Connecticut, and their sincere intent. But serious, systematic problems like this one will require a comprehensive response and resources–not another study.

Magnet Schools and Open Choice to Address Racial Segregation

Last week, Connecticut US Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal joined US Representative Joe Courtney in introducing a new federal bill, the MAGNET Act. This legislation would provide new federal support for districts creating new magnet schools that will address racial isolation. It would update an existing magnet funding program by prioritizing applicants with strategies for increasing diversity, according to coverage by the Hartford Courant. That’s especially noteworthy for Connecticut, in light of the new Sheff v. O'Neill settlement that relies on both interdistrict magnet schools in the Hartford region and Open Choice seats voluntarily provided by neighboring suburban districts. If passed, the federal legislation could also provide funding for existing Connecticut magnet schools that undertake explicit diversity efforts. It showcases a growing acceptance of the idea that we can and should combat racial segregation and achievement gaps by allowing historically underserved students to move between districts.

But it’s not yet clear that these efforts will work successfully to address segregation or educational opportunity. On Thursday, Julia Perkins from the CT Post took a deep dive into what's already going wrong with the voluntary Open Choice program statewide. In Danbury–which is 60% Hispanic or Latino and struggling with a significant overcrowding challenge–the Open Choice effort was scheduled to launch in the 2022-23 school year. But most of the surrounding districts in the region–which are majority White–have not opted in. The article highlights the considerable miscalculation by the Danbury delegation that pushed for this expansion.

It's also unclear whether the Hartford region, the subject of Sheff, will react similarly regarding the program's expansion. Commenting on the legislature’s resolution to approve the Sheff settlement last Wednesday, an “incensed” Senator Gary Winfield was critical of the overall emphasis on “proximity to whiteness.” "I don't believe that if you flipped this equation, people would say, 'Well, you're in proximity to blackness, then that's the answer,’" he commented. Watch his powerful speech here.

Sign Up Today! Friday April 1, 2pm: "Who Benefits? How Teacher Pensions Impact Resource Equity" Recent research has shown that Connecticut's subsidy of local retirement benefits reinforces a systemic disadvantage for the highest needs school districts, especially in terms of how they compensate their teaching workforce. Register today to hear our expert panel unpack the implications of this study on ongoing efforts to address teacher quality, recruitment, and retention in Connecticut and other states.

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