What would it mean to your school community if your school was fully funded? That’s the question educators who attended a Monday CEA Recovery for All meeting were asked to answer.
The responses included no more hungry students, more school counselors and social workers, smaller class sizes, updated textbooks, replacements for broken computers and SMART boards, new or renovated HVAC systems, room for all educators to have dedicated classroom or office space, and more special education teachers and paras so that all students receive the support they deserve.
CEA President Jeff Leake said that many Connecticut schools are struggling because of the inadequate education cost sharing (ECS) funds they receive from the state.
“How can the wealth in Connecticut be used to lift up all of Connecticut’s communities?” he asked. “It’s not just education that we need to uplift our communities—it’s much more.”
Leake said that many students and families face numerous out-of-school obstacles. In addition to increased resources for education, Connecticut must develop social policies to address needs such as health care, housing, food insecurity, and systemic racism.
CEA is part of the Recovery for All grassroots coalition made up of teachers, students, parents, community members, religious organizations, and labor groups advocating for a fair state budget that invests in schools, families, and communities and gives everyone the opportunity to succeed.
Rep. Jillian Gilchrest is one of 44 legislators who have signed onto the Recovery for All platform. She told CEA members that the state has had conversations for years about inequalities in our various systems and the consequences, and she said now is the time to take action.
“What the pandemic did was exacerbate inequities, and it really showed that we need to do something more,” she said. “Now we’re going to have all of this learning loss, and for those students who were already behind, they’re going to be even further behind.”
She said she does not support the governor’s budget proposal, which flat funds ECS—using federal dollars to supplant state aid.
“We know what it’s going to take to make Connecticut more equitable,” Gilchrest said. “The time to invest in that is now as we come out of this moment where folks are suffering both from the health crisis and economically.”
As part of the Recovery for All Coalition, CEA members have already participated in a car caravan that traveled past the governor’s mansion, and a speak-out in Danbury where educators, students, legislators, and community members shared the consequences of underfunding in Danbury.
During the Monday meeting, East Hartford Education Association President Joe Bernabucci said that, like Danbury, East Hartford Public Schools are severely underfunded—spending approximately $3,000 less than average, even though students in East Hartford experience significant need.
“When you multiply that by 6,800 students, it translates into having trouble competing with surrounding towns,” he said.
Unlike nearby suburban communities, East Hartford schools have kindergarten classes with more than 25 students, old textbooks, and frequently must cut teaching positions. “We need to unfreeze and fully fund the state ECS grant according to the 2017 revisions,” Bernabucci said.
Teachers from Danbury shared how rewarding and energizing they found last week’s speak-out and encouraged other communities to consider similar events.
“Teachers are working around the clock, so it’s hard to mobilize people,” Danbury instructional math coach Mary Jo Bohrman said. “CEA helped with logistics though, and it was such a great event. Since it was recorded, even teachers who couldn’t be there are now going back to watch and being energized by it.”
CEA organizers encouraged members to continue to work with legislators and speak up on behalf of their students.
“Without your action, we have no chance to win,” said CEA Regional Organizer Herman Whitter.
He told local associations that they can have great success by working with other local associations in their area that face similar challenges.
CEA Communications Director Nancy Andrews encouraged local leaders to consider writing op-eds about the underfunding in their schools to be published in local papers.
Plan to join us for the next CEA Recovery for All meeting on April 26 at 4:30 p.m.