Do our can­di­dates sup­port chil­dren?

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Opinion - WENDY LECKER Wendy Lecker is a colum­nist for the Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia Group and is se­nior at­tor­ney at the Ed­u­ca­tion Law Cen­ter.

The Al­liance to Re­claim Our Schools (“AROS”), a coali­tion of par­ent, com­mu­nity and la­bor groups, re­cently is­sued a re­port, Con­fronting the Ed­u­ca­tion Debt, find­ing that over the past 13 years, the United States has un­der­funded its schools by more than

$ 580 bil­lion in fed­eral dol­lars alone. The group fo­cused thir­teen- year- span be­cause it cor­re­sponds to the pub­lic school ex­pe­ri­ence, from kinder­garten, of a stu­dent grad­u­at­ing in 2017.

As AROS notes, fed­eral funds amount to a very small por­tion, about 8 per­cent, of a school district’s ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing. How­ever, the bulk of these funds is tar­geted to some of the need­i­est chil­dren, chil­dren liv­ing in poverty and stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties, so these small amounts make a big dif­fer­ence for im­pov­er­ished school dis­tricts.

Ti­tle I of the El­e­men­tary and Se­condary School Act, en­acted in 1965 was in­tended to di­rect fed­eral funds to schools with high con­cen­tra­tions of poverty. Since its en­act­ment, Ti­tle I has never been fully funded. In the past 13 years, Congress has only ap­pro­pri­ated on av­er­age only four­teen per­cent of the full- fund­ing amount. Na­tion­wide, our poor­est dis­tricts have been short­changed al­most $ 350 bil­lion dol­lars over the past thir­teen years alone. Con­necti­cut’s poor­est dis­tricts lost out on over $ 3 bil­lion dol­lars since 2005; and over $ 300 mil­lion in 2017 alone.

The In­di­vid­ual with Dis­abil­i­ties in Ed­u­ca­tion Act ( IDEA) of 1975 was de­signed to ad­dress the needs of stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties. Congress promised to fund 40 per­cent of the cost of ed­u­cat­ing stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties un­der this law; how­ever, IDEA too has been un­der­funded since its in­cep­tion. Over the past thir­teen years, Congress has ap­pro­pri­ated on av­er­age only 16 per­cent of the full- fund­ing amount, re­sult­ing in a loss of at least $ 233 bil­lion. Con­necti­cut’s stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties lost over two bil­lion dol­lars dur­ing this pe­riod; and over $ 189 mil­lion in 2017 alone.

The fed­eral fund­ing short­falls for Con­necti­cut’s most vul­ner­a­ble stu­dents com­pound the de­fi­cien­cies in what should be their largest fund­ing source: state dol­lars.

In this gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion sea­son, where the Repub­li­can can­di­date is pledg­ing to dras­ti­cally re­duce pub­lic rev­enue and the Demo­cratic can­di­date can only com­mit to flat fund­ing ed­u­ca­tion, it is im­por­tant to re­view the con­di­tions in our state’s poor­est schools.

Re­call that the CCJEF court found se­vere de­pri­va­tions of crit­i­cal ed­u­ca­tional re­sources in Con­necti­cut’s poor­est dis­tricts. These schools lacked preschool, bilin­gual ser­vices, so­cial work­ers, guid­ance coun­selors, read­ing and math in­ter­ven­tions and other staff and ser­vices nec­es­sary for un­der­served chil­dren to ac­cess their rights to an ed­u­ca­tion. Con­necti­cut’s high­est court agreed that these de­pri­va­tions ex­ist and that the lack of these pro­grams, staff and ser­vices im­pedes the abil­ity of Con­necti­cut’s most vul­ner­a­ble stu­dents to ac­cess the state’s ed­u­ca­tional of­fer­ings.

These se­vere re­source de­fi­cien­cies have not mag­i­cally gone away. In fact, they are likely to get worse. The leg­is­la­ture tin­kered with the Ed­u­ca­tional Cost Shar­ing (“ECS”) For­mula last ses­sion but the end re­sult of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion was a net re­duc­tion in ECS fund­ing.

The leg­is­la­ture re­duced over­all state ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing, know­ing that our needi- est chil­dren in Bridge­port, New Lon­don, Wind­ham and else­where across the state lack the ba­sic build­ing blocks of an ad­e­quate ed­u­ca­tion. Our poor­est dis­tricts are also ma­jor­ity stu­dents of color. Thus, pro­vid­ing ad­e­quate ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing is not only a mat­ter of ba­sic fair­ness, but it also a mat­ter of racial jus­tice.

As­tate bud­get re­flects what state lead­ers value. If our lead­ers value our chil­dren, par­tic­u­larly our most un­der­served chil­dren, then they must, once and for all, put their money where their mouths are. To en­act mean­ing­ful school fi­nance re­form, which does not mean just shift­ing in­ad­e­quate re­sources around, they must first as­sess the real cost of ed­u­ca­tion to­day in Con­necti­cut, then find a way to pay for it.

Pro­vid­ing out most vul­ner­a­ble stu­dents with ba­sic, in­dis­pens­able ed­u­ca­tional re­sources should be our top pri­or­ity. In this elec­tion sea­son it is up to us to make sure those who want to be our rep­re­sen­ta­tives and those who want to re­main our rep­re­sen­ta­tives fi­nally make ad­e­quately fund­ing pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion their pri­or­ity.

The leg­is­la­ture re­duced over­all state ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing, know­ing that our need­i­est chil­dren in Bridge­port, New Lon­don, Wind­ham and else­where across the state lack the ba­sic build­ing blocks of an ad­e­quate ed­u­ca­tion.

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