Below is our testimony on ten legislative proposals including student-centered funding, literacy, social-emotional learning and teacher recruitment.
Watch video testimony from ConnCAN Parent Fellows and advocates here: facebook.com/ConnCAN/videos
Dr. Sana Shaikh & University of Hartford student Lillian Bertram discuss SB 1034 An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment and Retention, Executive Director Subira Gordon and Parent Fellows Veronica Rosario and LaToya Ireland discuss the governor’s education budget.
View a .pdf of bills we’re watching here:
_ConnCAN 2021 bills we’re watching, updated 3.19.2021
About a year ago, classrooms in Connecticut closed and those districts that were adequately resourced sent students home with a device, ready to tackle the world of online learning. Meanwhile, in underserved communities, superintendents and school leaders struggled to figure out solutions that would keep students learning as a global pandemic ravaged our state. A public health crisis quickly became an educational equity issue of epic proportions.
And 9 months ago the country watched George Floyd’s murder and took to the streets to say enough is enough. Right here in our state from Greenwich to Canton to Hartford protesters marched to say “Black Lives Matter.”
Today I am here to speak in favor of SB 948. Thank you to Majority Leader Representative Rojas, Representative McGee and Representative Currey for proposing bills this session to tackle racial justice in education funding. In 2017 when the legislature negotiated an ECS formula, it did not include public schools of choice, therefore, not addressing some of the students with the greatest needs in our state. Parents who make decisions of school choice often do not have the luxury of real estate choice. They are deciding to find the best option for their children, because in many cases the local school that they are zoned for, due to historic underinvestment, is unable to meet the needs of their child. This bill will bring equity to student funding and treat all students based on their needs rather than the school that their parents chose.
This bill also changes the weights allocated for concentrated poverty from 75% to 60%. Currently, the cities with students in our state with the highest poverty and need such as Bridgeport and New Britain do not qualify for the concentrated poverty weight. This underinvestment leads districts to make difficult decisions, leaving students without critical resources such as literacy coaches and adequate access to mental health professionals.
In the last 10 years, Connecticut’s English Learner population has grown by nearly 13,000 students, while the state’s total enrollment has decreased by nearly 37,000 students. As our state gets more diverse and we continue to serve a greater English Language student population, school districts need to be able to provide the resources for these students so they can be successful and this bill changes that ELL weight from 15% to 25% to drive greater funding to districts for more equitable learning opportunities for English Learners
Finally, this bill calls for the full funding of ECS which would immediately provide the funding that was already decided by the legislature as necessary for districts to serve their students. Many others have pointed out what this investment today means for students.
Read more about SB 948 and student-centered funding here: https://linktr.ee/studentcenteredfunding
Much of the conversation regarding education is about “getting back to normal.” We want to reopen schools, restart athletics, re-engage in extracurricular activities. So our goals center on using resources and time to mitigate the issues caused by Covid-19 and start up again. What if, instead of focusing on going back to what was, we take this opportunity to reimagine an education model that is more flexible, more supportive, and more equitable?
Connecticut suffers from one of the largest opportunity gaps in America. Our Black and Brown students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities face systemic barriers to their success, often overcoming hurdles to achieve equal results compared to their English-speaking, non-disabled white peers. Now is the time to make significant investments in our schools to dramatically reduce our opportunity gaps, and achieve greater outcomes for all of our students, regardless of their background.
SB2, along with HB6556 and SB948 (both currently in the education committee) are Connecticut’s opportunities to transform education for our students, especially those living in under-resourced communities. In some cases, SB2 sets the groundwork for substantial change. However, we think there are opportunities to consider broader, more substantial legislation to meet the moment.
First, SB2 outlines the role of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) screenings for young people. This work is essential in understanding the level of trauma a child has experienced and the necessary resources a district must provide to a school with high concentrations of children facing trauma. With this knowledge, we can create a more supportive, understanding and responsive educational environment for our students.
Next, this legislation alters important language regarding social and emotional learning and mental health awareness for young people. This past year has been challenging for our young people. They had to rapidly change their entire lives, learning from home rather than school, seeing family members virtually rather than at gatherings, and in some cases, experiencing loss and financial hardship. Our students have been deeply impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and will have to receive increased social and emotional support to get back on the right track.
However, there are areas for improvement for this legislation.
First, this bill focuses primarily on attendance and excused vs. unexcused absences. We know that measuring attendance is insufficient in understanding how students engage in the learning process. We must look to deepen our metrics to include student engagement and disengagement as indicators of success. We would define an engaged student as:
“a student in grade K to 12, inclusive, who participates in 75% or more of learning opportunities whether in-person, hybrid or remote by (A) signing into lessons, (B) completing assignments, and (C) participating in learning tasks.”
Second, SB2 leaves out a lot of the necessary investments we must make to meet the moment. In ConnCAN’s family survey on post-pandemic investment, families rated social and emotional supports, and academic intervention as pressing matters for their child/children. For SB2 to meet the needs of families, it should recommend key long-term mitigation strategies for academic and social-emotional learning. Right now, this legislation creates many of the reporting and system inputs, but does not directly address the policies and practices that will drive student outcomes.
ConnCAN stands ready to work on this legislation with legislative leaders, community members and families.
ConnCAN fully supports SB 1034
ConnCAN is in full support of this year’s version of AAC minority teacher recruitment and retention. For years we have been citing the science about why this matters and why now. In 2019 the state made a serious step to commit to certifying 250 new teachers of color. This year, the committee is connecting the state work with what needs to be addressed on the municipal level. Students need to have access to the profession at an early age, in a positive light so they too can decide that this is a career path with opportunities to make a difference in their own communities. A few years ago Senator McCoroy shared a story about a young boy who said he did not want to return to the scene of the crime, meaning his school. That has stuck with me because stories like that challenge us as a state to open opportunities for students to feel connected to learning and their school experiences. Becoming an educator is a great opportunity, a great pathway to the middle class and also a way to have an impact on many lives.
While this work can feel heavy and overwhelming, it is working. Recently Windsor voted to have its first black superintendent. Dr. Hill is an example of why this work matters, Dr. Rufkin in Waterbury, Dr. Connors in Middletown and Dr. Estrella in Norwalk.
The residency program in partnership with the grow your own pathway allows students to have that window that Rudine Sims Bishop wrote about. The window to see what a student can become, she also wrote that when the light hits a window in a certain way it becomes a mirror. That reflection is what will challenge us as a state to continue to do more.
There are several studies about implicit bias and the role it plays in the decisions that human resources professionals make. A name that sounds ethnic gives them pause, a person who is not ‘well dressed’ will not be considered and the list goes on and on. It is important to create an environment at the district level that addresses the hiring of educators through a lens that does not have bias. By giving all human resources professionals access to implicit bias training at no cost, school districts can start to address some of the barriers that exist within the system itself that have not allowed for greater diversity. Dr. Hill wrote about the ‘fit’ stating that many times people of color are overlooked for positions because they are not a great ‘fit’. This legislation challenges the fit. If biases are taken off the table, then candidates of color can finally be given the opportunities to step into classrooms and other spaces in the education system and begin to create a more diverse educator workforce.
ConnCAN fully supports SB 1033
Smart investments in computer science education are necessary to ensure Connecticut kids can compete for tomorrow’s jobs. According to the App Association, the computer science field will have over 1 million open jobs by 2024. Unfortunately, only 10% of all schools offer computer science courses (Code.org report).
Connecticut is already falling behind our neighboring states when it comes to post-recession job growth, and if we fail to have a workforce that’s adequately prepared to fill jobs that are being created, our state’s economy will never catch up. For example, New York has already “pushed for a greater focus on computer science and coding in education, and last year’s budget included funding to train teachers for computer science.” (NY Governor’s Office)
Access to computer science courses is also an issue of equity. Currently, the ratio of men to women in the computer science field is 4:1. By expanding access, more women have the opportunity to learn about and become computer scientists.
Computer science is vital to developing a 21st-century workforce and this bill ensures that Connecticut leads on this issue.
Financial Literacy: Research shows that just 1 in 5 students have basic financial literacy skills. Additionally, as the cost of higher education skyrockets, 1 million students default on their loan debt, and the average student has over $29,o00 in debt (NYT).
Financial literacy is a necessary skill for the 21st Century.
Right now, 17 states have financial literacy laws on the books. According to the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College, Connecticut gets an F for its policies in helping support financial literacy in students (CFL)
Connecticut must step up to ensure that students are ready to manage their finances in adulthood. And, while 90% of CT high schools offer a financial literacy course, less than 7% of students are required to take the course for graduation (JUMP$TART).
Connecticut’s young people are expected to survive in the adult world with little understanding of finances. For their sake, this must change.
Financial management and literacy are key elements to financial independence. We must keep in mind that supporting financial literacy without addressing underlying economic inequality, will not solve our collective problem. We must acknowledge that better counting the few dollars and cents folks have will not ensure that they’ll be able to gain more economic wealth later in life.
Only a world-class education and equitable policies can do that.
ConnCAN fully supports HB 6619
Connecticut’s education system is highly balkanized, providing a platform for experimentation and a healthy exchange of ideas between districts. Unfortunately, it can also mean that districts are unable to reach economies of scale and have limited capacity in curriculum development and implementation. Combined with the responsibilities of teaching high-quality content as prescribed by the Common Core State Standards, Connecticut would benefit from having a K-8 model curriculum that all districts can use, if necessary.
Right now, a child could change schools (either within a single district or to a different district) and their educational experience could differ significantly. The curriculum may be chosen by the teacher, approved by the principal and monitored by the district. But, how do we know that the content is rigorous and engaging? What exemplar do we have to compare it to?
By building a K-8 model curriculum, Connecticut achieves three distinct goals:
- Set a clear baseline for what students could learn in a given year;
- Provide much needed curricular support for capacity-limited districts so teachers can focus more on delivery than building their own content; and
- Ensure that curriculum includes culturally competent pedagogy and practice in order to increase understanding and engagement.
Finally, a model curriculum gives Connecticut educators a common language for teaching and learning. While each teacher will differ in their lesson planning and style, all classrooms will have the opportunity to engage in similar practices, thus helping to support CT learning goals.
This model curriculum is a great step in setting expectations for classrooms and supplying much-needed capacity for educators and district-level administrators.
ConnCAN fully supports HB 6620
Less than 6 in 10 (55.7%) students in Connecticut are on track for college and career in reading. For some communities, fewer than 1 in 10 are on track, including a school in New Britain, Bridgeport, and three schools in Hartford. In fact, for overall district performance:
- Just 1 in 5 (20.2%) New Britain students are at/above grade level in ELA;
- Just 1 in 4 (24.5%) Hartford students are at/above grade level in ELA;
- Under 3 in 10 (27.4%) Bridgeport students are at/above grade level in ELA; and
- Just 3 in 10 (30.3%) Waterbury students are at/above grade level in ELA.
Literacy skills determine future outcomes. Students who cannot read fluently by the end of grade 3 face an uphill climb to high school graduation, college attendance and job placement. In fact, research shows that students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers. This must change. We know the science behind proper literacy instruction and we must double-down on practices we know work.
ConnCAN supports the concepts of HB 6620 because it provides more coordination and support for schools to move the needle on literacy rates.
Connecticut has implemented successful literacy intervention programs and supports in the past. We must expand those programs to support more children, not less. ConnCAN hopes that this bill addresses the gap between policy and implementation through technical support and coordination.
Together, with proper resources and instruction, Connecticut schools can close the literacy gap. We must act urgently.
ConnCAN is in support of HB 6556
ConnCAN believes the legislation would be strengthened by including clear definitions of student engagement and student disengagement (proposed language attached in Appendix A of this testimony)
COVID-19 restructured the delivery of education in striking ways. Many districts had to make difficult decisions to balance health, safety and academic learning. Layered on top of COVID-19, Connecticut has maintained sizable opportunity gaps for generations. These gaps have disproportionately impacted students of color and are likely to increase due to the pandemic. To come out of this crisis stronger, Connecticut must have an all-hands-on-deck mentality for mitigating learning loss. Simply ensuring that schools remain open for in-person learning is insufficient. Additional support over the next two years must supplement any education model where inequities persist.
ConnCAN believes that Connecticut must mitigate learning loss by:
- Accurately measuring learning loss through statewide Spring 2021 assessments;
- Creating a portfolio of mitigation strategies, including: afterschool, summer and small group tutoring, including learning pods at no/low cost; and
- Ensuring districts have the resources and flexibility to adjust length of school day/ school year to meet the immediate academic needs of their students.
Accurately Measuring Learning Loss
To solve a problem, one must first understand the size, shape and direction of that problem. For Connecticut to tackle learning loss, we must collectively understand:
- which students are most impacted;
- where those students attend school; and
- the depth of the loss.
Connecticut should use its existing SBAC and SAT assessment systems in Spring 2021 to measure academic achievement, growth, and opportunity gaps. We must resist pressures to waive assessments for any reason. Without actionable data on student achievement, Connecticut will fly blind when our students and families need clear-eyed guidance more than ever.
Once we understand what learning loss looks like, Connecticut schools must implement a portfolio of mitigation strategies. These interventions should target students that require the most support and should be widely available. Interventions include:
- expanded after-school academic programming;
- community-based learning pods;
- formal summer academic programming;
- high-dosage, small group tutoring; and
- additional in-school interventions and opportunities for small group instruction.
Connecticut should leverage federal funds to incentivize districts to deepen their investment in these mitigation strategies over the next two academic years (at least). We must have an all-hands-on-deck approach to supporting accelerated student growth.
Any mitigation strategy should include periodic assessments to track progress and make shifts in strategy, based on results.
Resources and Flexibility
During crises, districts need to have additional flexibilities to meet the needs of their students. For example, Connecticut waived the 180-day requirement so that districts could better plan and prepare their educators for the realities of distance learning. For the recovery ahead, districts should be able to extend the school day and academic year to increase learning time for students.
The State Department of Education should make resources available to districts to alter their school day and school year. Resources could include;
- technical support to analyze and determine how to restructure the school day/school year; and
- matching funds for additional school staff capacity;
Strengthening the Legislation
HB6556 includes guidance on reducing student disengagement, yet the term is not fully defined in the legislation. ConnCAN recommends including proposed language (Appendix A: attached) to HB6556 to strengthen its functionality.
The Risk of Inaction
If Connecticut fails to address learning loss in a strategic fashion, our students will never recover. The losses will compound each year and we’ll lose a generation of students. The impact will not be equitable, either. Students of color will experience greater losses and will have fewer resources available to them to mitigate those losses. The opportunity gap will expand, and Connecticut’s education system will suffer.
We must address learning loss now, no matter what it exposes about the challenges of educating in a COVID-19 world. Our students depend on our guidance and support to become successful, self-sufficient adults. Without our honesty, students will unknowingly fall behind. That’s simply unfair.
Let’s build an equitable Connecticut in a post-COVID world. It will take assessment, mitigation strategies, resources and flexibility, but we’ll be better positioned to tackle large-scale challenges in our future.
ConnCAN is in support of HB 6557
This past year has been challenging for our young people. They had to rapidly change their entire lives, learning from home rather than school, seeing family members virtually rather than at gatherings, and in some cases, experiencing loss and financial hardship. Our students have been deeply impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and will have to receive increased social and emotional support to get back on the right track.
HB6557 is a sorely needed first step in deepening the social and emotional supports available within schools. Specifically, HB6557 sets ratio limits for school counselor, social worker, family therapist and school psychologist. That way, each school hires, trains and supports a mental health workforce able to meet the needs of the student population.
Additionally, HB6557 completes a mental health audit for all Connecticut students, which helps professionals set a baseline for student need. Our students will benefit from meeting, learning about and receiving support from mental health professionals. Finally, this work will help support student academic goals and outcomes as they will be in a better mental state to access lessons.
ConnCAN is in support of HB 6558
At the beginning of the pandemic, our early childhood service providers were a lifeline for families struggling to balance work, safety and family obligations. They were the first to reopen and the last to leave. Additionally, early childhood educators are among the most underpaid in the education profession. HB6558 provides significant support to early childhood educators by making loan forgiveness and tax credits available.
Loan forgiveness is already available to K-12 teachers and nonprofit employees. By expanding loan forgiveness to early childhood educators, they are more likely to enter and remain in the profession, which benefits children and service providers. Likewise, available tax credits provide incentives for educators to continue their education, as they receive greater benefits with a 4-year degree than a 2-year or certificate degree.
ConnCAN is in support of SB 977
When schools shut down last March, Connecticut’s school districts scrambled to meet the educational needs of students in a virtual setting. ConnCAN curated a comprehensive list of all virtual learning plans and found variability in style, quality and accessibility. And, as districts tested out new practices, those plans changed numerous times in the course of a few months. This process was frustrating for all stakeholders, but a lot of important lessons were learned as a result. SB977 takes those lessons and uses them to create a uniform set of guidelines for virtual learning. Also, the legislation provides professional development for teachers to deepen their virtual learning pedagogy and practice.
As Connecticut schools move back to an in-person setting, virtual learning will continue to play a periodic role in public education. By passing SB977, Connecticut students, families and teachers will have clarity on expectations and be more prepared to hit the ground running, rather than scramble in uncertainty.