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The New Roles in Ed Leadership, (Mis)using Federal Relief Funds, + Signs of COVID Literacy Loss

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: The New Roles in Ed Leadership, (Mis)using Federal Relief Funds, and Early COVID Learning Loss Signs in Literacy

Paging the Department of Personnel!

There are lots of new (and familiar) leaders being elevated in the Connecticut education landscape this week. In case you missed it, Dr. Charlene Russell-Tucker, formerly a Deputy Commissioner at the State Department of Education, has been selected as Interim Commissioner, following Miguel Cardona's rise as the new US Secretary of Education. Last Wednesday, the State Board of Education recommended her for the role, and the Governor subsequently announced the appointment. We congratulate Commissioner Russell-Tucker and look forward to collaborating on behalf of a more equitable education system.

In addition, Patricia Billie Miller was sworn in to the State Senate on Monday, following her win in the special election in the 27th Senate District, which represents Stamford and Darien. In this new role, she will remain on the Education Committee and will be elevated to Chair of the Aging Committee. She will also continue as Vice Chair of Finance, Revenue, & Bonding. Amidst the shuffling of committee assignments, State Senator Will Haskell has been named as Senate Chair of the Transportation Committee. He will leave his post on the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, where he has served as Senate Chair. Senator Derek Slap will take over that role, and we hope he will continue the work Senator Haskell has been leading over the past two years—including promotion of debt-free community college, consolidation plans at the CSCUs, and efforts to make FAFSA completion a high school graduation requirement for the benefit of students.

(Mis)using Federal Ed Relief: Supplant or Supplement?

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which is before the US House of Representatives today, will send over $1 billion in additional relief funds to Connecticut public schools. Combined with the federal funding from previous COVID relief bills, the state's public schools will have received 3.5 times the typical amount of federal aid, according to Lisa Hammersley of the School and State Finance Project. However, education officials remain unsure about when the money will arrive or how it will be spent by districts.

Meanwhile, Governor Lamont's budget proposal, which he unveiled in February, calls for using the federal funds to cover part of an increase in the state’s Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula, which has been scheduled since it was reformulated in 2017. In our responding statement, we referred to this proposal as a supplanting of state funding with federal dollars, adding that “These state funds were overdue long before the pandemic hit. This is a year to accelerate and expand the state’s investment to include all students and increase equity, not stay the course. Connecticut students will need all available funds to meet this moment.” Education advocates and district leaders are concerned that after the federal aid runs its course, local public school districts will hit a “fiscal cliff” because they will lack sufficient state support to cover their regular educational needs and expenses. The Governor’s proposal went before the Appropriations Committee yesterday. You can read Amy’s testimony here.

The Impact of COVID on Early Literacy

A quick piece in The New York Times yesterday highlighted research showing that younger students have fallen behind on their reading skills during the pandemic. Unfortunately, this news has been predicted by many experts. Importantly, students in "lower-achieving school districts" lost more ground, indicating a widening of learning gaps. Compounding this challenge, many students will face the significant hurdle of “learning to read” behind schedule before they can effectively “read to learn” in future grades. Don’t miss the Right to Read CT Coalition’s literacy series about how Connecticut can address this important issue. Part three—titled “Why Are So Many Districts Not Following the Research?”will be hosted tomorrow night by the Commission on Women Children, Seniors, Equity & Opportunity. Among the panelists are Council of Chief State School Officers CEO Carissa Moffat Miller; Colchester Director of Learning Charles Hewes; Former State Literacy Director of Mississippi Kymyona Burk; Director of the Florida Center for Reading Research Nicole Patton-Terry; and Former CT Ed Commissioner Dianna Wentzell.

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