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House Passes Bill on Per Pupil Teacher Pension Inequities, Higher Ed + Social Mobility, and MORE

House Passes Bill Looking at Per Pupil Teacher Pension Inequities

Late last night, the Connecticut House of Representatives passed their first education bill of the docket, HB 6880, which makes a variety of revisions to the education statutes. The legislation addresses pre-service performance assessments for prospective teachers, labor disputes, play-based learning and professional development, and more. The bill also changes the cutoff for kindergarten so that incoming students must be five by September of the school year in which they enroll (rather than January). On both sides of the aisle, however, several questions were raised about a section of the bill that establishes a task force to study the "per pupil equity of funding of the Teachers' Retirement System."

“WHY do we need another task force?” you ask.

This concept was borne out of a report co-written by the Equable Institute and our affiliate, ERN CT, back in 2021. It explained how Connecticut’s unusual system of financing teacher pensions results in inequitable education spending. You see, teacher pension allocations are largely based upon the salaries set by local public school districts. Nevertheless, Connecticut is one of only three states in the country to fund the entire normal cost of teacher pensions at the state-level—a cost that amounts to a quarter of all Connecticut K-12 education spending annually. ERN CT’s research looked at these expenses at the per pupil level in each district, identifying that Connecticut funds pension costs at higher rates for districts that have less student diversity, fewer students living in poverty, and higher academic performance. In other words, it’s a system that dings higher need districts twice when it comes to teacher compensation: once because they cannot offer competitive salaries, and then again because the state pays the resultant pension costs in a way that unfairly advantages those districts that are already ahead.

Plenty of ink has been spilled over the unfunded pension liabilities that have been amassed over time in Connecticut, the mismanagement of the teacher retirement system in Connecticut, and the threat to the sustainability of the teacher pension system at large. The legislative task force contemplated in this bill will specifically begin to study the per pupil inequities that result from our manner of funding teacher pensions. Huge credit goes to the co-chairs of the Education Committee, Representative Jeff Currey and Senator Doug McCrory—as well as Democratic Caucus Leadership and the Education Committee ranking members—for their visionary leadership that got the legislation to this point. See ERN CT’s press statement here.

The next hurdle for the bill will be to pass the Senate. If and when that happens, it will be the first piece of legislation of its kind in the country!

Higher Ed as a Social Mobility Elevator

Yesterday, our national affiliate, Education Reform Now, released the second edition of its Social Mobility Elevator college rankings—which explore how much access and support to graduation colleges across the country provide to students from low-income households and students of color. The rankings make the case for sending more resources to institutions that promote upward mobility. Notably, this ranking system tends to favor larger universities because they serve greater numbers of students from low-income households. In Connecticut, for instance, Central Connecticut State University, Southern Connecticut State University, University of Connecticut, and Western Connecticut State University—as well as some private colleges—top the charts on this ranking system. In contrast, Wesleyan, Connecticut College, and Fairfield University score low for social mobility.

The research is an important addendum to the report our state affiliate, ERN CT, released last week. Still Less for More explored graduation rates for students of color and costs to students from low-income families in Connecticut—arguing that the state ought to invest in a more equitable system of higher education. In truth, higher education equity requires both: high rates of access for traditionally underrepresented student populations, and high rates of degree attainment after they enroll.

But, as Alex Putterman wrote in his coverage for Hearst CT, “Higher education funding has been a contentious subject of debate during the current legislative session, with officials in the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system claiming that budget proposals from both Gov. Ned Lamont and the legislature's Appropriations Committee would require them to impose deep cuts.” Both the national report and the state report call for increased investments in institutions of higher education so that they can better serve underrepresented student populations and positively impact social mobility.

The Harmfulness of Social Media for Kids

On Tuesday, the US Surgeon General issued a warning that, in adolescents, social media might pose potential mental health risks. According to The New York Times, Dr. Vivek Murthy called for immediate action by independent researchers and technology companies to explore “the types of social media content that cause harm; whether particular neurological pathways, such as those involving reward and addiction, are affected; and which strategies could be used to protect the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”

Last month, the CT Mirror covered efforts by US Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal on this very policy issue. Senator Murphy is advocating for parental consent before teenagers are able to sign up for social media platforms; while Senator Blumenthal favors a solution that gives the tech companies, rather than parents, the duty to protect minors by allowing for disabling of harmful and addictive features.

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