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Approps Budget; New Application Process for Federal COVID Relief; + Ending Non-Medical Vax Exemption

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: Appropriations Committee Budget Prioritizes Key Ed Policies;

Feds Create Application Process for COVID Relief; and

Student Non-Medical Exemptions for Vaccine Ends with a Decisive Vote!

Budget Priorities: Appropriations Committee and Lamont

On April 21st, the Appropriations Committee released a $46B budget proposal for the next two fiscal years (FY 2022 and FY 2023). In a departure from Governor Lamont's proposal this past February, the Appropriations budget refrains from stalling the 2017 scheduled increases in Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funding to districts. Co-Chairs Sen. Cathy Osten and Rep. Toni Walker also observed that racial inequities, which have been ignored for too long in Connecticut, have only been exacerbated by the pandemic and need to be addressed with urgency. Accordingly, the Appropriations Committee advanced several important priorities to the full legislature that will impact students, including:

  • An Act Concerning the Right to Read (HB 6620), which seeks to systematize the use of research-based literacy instruction in every elementary school, in order to overcome learning loss and build a strong, equitable foundation for future learners. Check out Monday’s front-page article from the Hartford Courant about the challenges early readers are facing after this pandemic.

  • An Act Addressing Education Funding and Racial Equity (SB 948), which would, among other things, revise weights for English Learners and towns with high concentrations of poverty in order to better address student needs.

  • An increase in funding levels for students attending public charter schools.

  • Expansion of Open Choice, through a pilot that is funded in Danbury and Norwalk regions.

  • An Act Declaring Racism as a Public Health Crisis (H.B. 6662), which would create a 28-member Commission on Racial Equity in Public Health to build a comprehensive strategic plan addressing health disparities and intersectional inequities such as air and water quality, affordable housing, and education.

These and other proposals that passed out of the Committee will now be contemplated by the full House and Senate. The Appropriations proposal will be considered alongside the Governor's proposal, as the General Assembly negotiates a new biennial budget.

Feds Create Application Process for COVID Relief

Last week, the US Department of Education (USDE) released a State Plan Template for the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. States—Connecticut included—have received two thirds of their ESSER funds under ARP. However, the remaining third, and largest, grant is contingent upon approval of these plans, which are due to be submitted by June 7, 2021. According to a USDE statement, the template will help states to describe how they will “continue to safely reopen schools, sustain their safe operations, and support students—especially those most impacted by the pandemic.” In response, the national policy office for our affiliate, Education Reform Now, released a statement commending the USDE for helping states to prioritize support that will address student needs.

According to an accompanying letter, the USDE will use the plans to inform how they monitor use of the funds—an indication that there will be some measure of accountability attached to these resources. This is a good opportunity for Connecticut to capitalize upon the new literacy legislation that is poised to pass this year, the Right to Read Bill. Having a statewide early literacy strategy will support districts in addressing learning loss equitably—precisely the type of evidence-based planning the state will have to demonstrate to the USDE.

These ESSER funds represent only a portion of the $6.28B coming to Connecticut through the ARP. On Monday, Governor Lamont released a plan to spend an additional $2.6B of the federal stimulus funds, covering proposals like: helping to avoid state deficits, free summer schools and camps, broadband expansion, gun violence reduction, college scholarships, and more. The Appropriations Committee must also create its own proposal by May 16th.

Tweet of the Week

Big thank you to all the legislators who made this possible and are keeping students safe! Shout out to Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff and Senator Mary Daugherty Abrams for their leadership!


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