Quality public education does not happen without adequate funding.
That was the message from CEA teachers and leaders who held a news conference at the Legislative Office Building this afternoon. The news conference came in advance of a public hearing before the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, where teachers pushed for the restoration of education cost share (ECS) funding for schools, critical programs that support new teachers, and a budget that ensures veteran teachers who have dedicated their professional lives to Connecticut’s children can retire with dignity.
“Our students and teachers are dealing with the destructive consequences of budget cuts, including fewer resources, the elimination of programs, teacher layoffs, and increases in class size,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen. “Legislators must restore public school funding so that all students have the critical resources, tools, and support they need to achieve.”
“What’s at stake here today is the future of stable, quality public schools in our state,” said CEA Executive Director Donald Williams. “All during the last session, legislators worked very hard to keep ECS funding whole. Despite their efforts and the resulting bipartisan biennial budget, the governor has since cut almost $67 million in education funding from that budget.”
The districts most severely cut have not been in wealthy towns, Williams pointed out, but in those struggling to make ends meet—municipalities that serve a diverse population and have significant pockets of poverty.
“The schools in those cities and towns,” he said, “are under attack. We’re here today to ask the Committee to restore critical funding to our schools, or class sizes will increase and quality will decline.”
In addition to urban districts, small, rural communities were some of the hardest hit.
“We are already doing more with less, and our schools can’t absorb more cuts,” said Ethan Spinelli, a middle school science teacher in Regional District 8. “We must find long-term solutions to solve the state’s chronic underfunding problem and develop a new, fair funding plan that ensures that all students have the critical resources, tools, and support they need to achieve.”
“These cuts are on top of last year’s cuts, which decimated our school budget,” added Tim Zeuschner, a social studies teacher at South Windsor High School. “Adding to years of underfunding, my district simply cannot meet all of the needs of all of our students with these devastating cuts.”
The budget cuts also wiped out state funding for Connecticut’s Teacher Education And Mentoring (TEAM) program, one of the most highly regarded new teacher induction and support programs in the country. Teachers unanimously called for the reinstatement of funds for this key program.
CREC Museum Academy fifth-grade teacher Shay Lewis recalled, “I have been in districts with and without mentoring programs, and I found that the districts that supported me as a new teacher were the ones where I was the most successful. When teachers are not professionally supported, nurtured, and given the opportunity to grow, it is difficult to keep them in the profession.” Recruitment and retention of teachers who reflect the diversity of the students they serve is particularly crucial, she said—and particularly challenging without programs such as TEAM.
West Hartford second-grade teacher Cathy Davis observed, “I have been teaching for 20 years, and I can tell you that our students are coming to us with more needs, not fewer. In a year when I see more and more classrooms with students whose needs are so severe that we have to clear the room so that students’ emotional needs can be attended to in a way that is safe for all students, the governor proposes less funding for schools. Class sizes are so high already that meeting students’ individual needs is a constant struggle. With these cuts, it will become impossible.”
“Connecticut must stop underfunding and endangering our students’ futures,” Cohen reiterated. “We must develop a new ECS plan that provides a fair, reliable, sustainable, and equitable funding source for all students, regardless of where they live. A new funding plan will ensure our local public school students have the critical resources, tools, and support they need to achieve.”