Connecticut teachers push for big funding increase, but it might be too late

The state is now short of around 1,700 teachers and support staff, according to the Connecticut Education Association.

John Craven

May 30, 2023, 9:29 PM

Updated 329 days ago

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Overcrowded classrooms and even canceled classes. That’s the “crisis” scenario Connecticut’s largest teachers union painted on Tuesday, in a last-minute push for big funding increases.
CANCELED CLASSES
“I should be comfortable knowing that, when I go to bed at night, that my kid is going to go to school the next day,” said Bloomfield parent Ian Laurencin.
The state is now short of around 1,700 teachers and support staff, according to the Connecticut Education Association. CEA President Kate Dias said it’s already led some school districts to cancel classes and use snow days instead. Dias warned the situation will get worse without major increases in the next state budget, which begins July 1.
“Those are teachers that are not there when your students go to school every day,” she said at a press conference outside the State Capitol. “Those are overcrowded classrooms to absorb students that don't have a teacher.”
SCHOOL SYSTEMS STRUGGLING
Facing a big jump in inflation and dwindling federal relief funds, school districts like Stratford and Milford have faced tight budgets – and potential layoffs.
“Dozens,” said Stratford Education Association president Mike Fiorello on April 19. “We're talking about more than 20.”
Last month, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities launched an ad campaign urging lawmakers to accelerate a new school funding formula that evens out funding between rich and poor school districts.
TOO LATE?
But Tuesday’s last-minute push might be too late. Top lawmakers have already reached a state budget deal, according to Democratic House Speaker Matt Ritter. He said local schools will get $150 million extra, but not until Year Two of the budget, which begins next summer.
Legislative leaders said they added the money to Gov. Ned Lamont’s original proposal, but still had to stay with the state’s strict spending caps.
“Every group that comes here is looking for a lot more than what they're getting,” said state Rep. Jason Rojas (D-East Hartford), the Democratic leader in the Connecticut House of Representatives.
Although starting salaries are slipping, Connecticut teachers are still some of the best paid in the nation. The state ranks fifth for teacher salaries, averaging almost $80,000 per year, according to the National Education Association. That lags behind neighboring states like New York and Massachusetts, but above Rhode Island – and well above the national average.
In exchange for more money, lawmakers want more transparency.
“It should be going to teachers and para-educators and into the classroom," said Ritter.
Connecticut has a record budget surplus, but lawmakers are also constrained by the spending cap – something Lamont reportedly refused to budge on in negotiations. They also want to fund historic tax cuts, as well as critical nonprofits, which are expected to get 2.5% extra each year – far less than they requested, too.
Some progressive Democrats said the “fiscal guardrails” are too strict, putting austerity ahead of prosperity.
“If we do not invest in our teachers, if we do not invest in our children and the education of our children, then we are failing,” said state Sen. Saud Anwar (D-South Windsor).
OTHER INCENTIVES
Instead of just pay, the state is trying to hire new teachers with incentives. In March, Lamont announced several measures to recruitment new teachers, through streamlining certifications and evaluations. The state is also recognizing some other states’ certifications, and helping with college debt relief.


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