More money to educate students with limited English or learning disabilities. A curriculum that teaches kids about the U.S.‘s long history of racial discrimination. More time for children to play and for teens to sleep in.
New Haven has its eye on state bills that seek to create those outcomes.
Over the last few weeks, New Haven education advocates — including many students — have been traveling up to the statehouse in Hartford to make their positions on those bills known, arguing in some cases for amendments that lawmakers may have overlooked.
The bills reflect the broader work that schools are being asked to do, beyond teaching what’s in the textbook, said Lauren Anderson, an associate professor of education at Connecticut College.
“They show a concern for a more holistic view of human development. Schools should be places where young people are able to get the kind of opportunities that are not equitable across the state and, more broadly the country,” Anderson said. “It’s access to resources in one’s native language, access to ample time outdoors and physical activity, even access — with the broader question of funding — to guidance counselors and librarians and class sizes that enable a sort of personalized educational experience that’s the foundation of a healthy learning environment.”
HB 6400, HB 7109, SB 637 & HB 5241: Pay The Real Cost
Even if the state flat-funds its overall education budget, New Haven could pull in millions more to teach with several bills.
As members of the local activist group NHPS Advocates learned during a workshop last week, the state’s Education Cost Sharing formula — the $2 billion mechanism for distributing education dollars to every district based on the town’s ability to pay — likely underestimates how much it costs to educate students with severe needs, like entrenched poverty, language barriers and learning disabilities.
But three bills could help New Haven get closer to the real cost of education.
Most prominently, SB 367, introduced by New Haven State Sen. Martin Looney and 13 others, would reimburse school districts for the actual cost of special education.
Currently, in New Haven, the school system spends about $43 million in general funds on special education. That’s about one-fifth of its total budget, which aligns with the average for other districts. That includes roughly $19 million in tuition for outside providers, $17 million for personnel (including the salaries for a little more than 200 teachers), $5 million on transportation and $2 million for other costs.
HB 6400, introduced by New Haven State Rep. Juan Candelaria, could allocate an additional $7 million for bilingual education statewide.
And HB 7109, which has been urged on by students from John C. Daniels School, could allocate approximately $14 million more for inter-district magnet schools statewide in the first increase since 2011.
However, one group said that magnet schools shouldn’t be singled out for an increase in funds.
Madeline Negron, president of the Connecticut Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, wrote in opposition to the bill, pointing out that neighborhood schools, which serve the vast majority of the state’s English language learners, aren’t seeing the same increase in their budgets.
“This bill further magnifies the existing disproportionality in educational funding between magnet schools and neighborhood schools,” Negron wrote. “Instead of attempting to support a selective number of students in our state, as appears to be the intention of this proposed bill, why not instead finally address the inequities in our existing education cost sharing formula and, as a result, support all our Connecticut students for once?”
Finally, two bills could save school districts cash by telling private school students to find their own way to class. HB 5241, introduced by New Haven State Rep. Roland Lemar, and HB 6611, introduced by New Haven/Hamden State Reps. Robyn Porter, Josh Elliott and Michael D’Agostino, would eliminate a requirement that towns must provide transportation to students attending private schools.
New Haven currently buses about 400 students to private schools every day, including 104 to Hopkins School, 78 to St. Francis & St. Rose of Lima School and 72 to Catholic Academy of New Haven. The invoices, which are paid by the city, come out to roughly $650,000 annually, district officials said. That comes out to a daily cost of about $8.85 per student, they said.
Altogether, Anderson said that the need for more funds in New Haven is “unquestionable,” give the magnitude of needs the city’s schools are facing.
“There is a pretty strong strand of public discourse that we’re throwing money at our schools and they’re not getting better. That’s an untruth,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re perfect, but they’re actually doing more with less than they’ve ever been asked to do in the history of our country. They’re serving in all of these really critical ways, despite the fact that they’re being simultaneously gutted while wealth proliferates in other places. I think families who send their kids to public schools have a right to be enraged about that.”
HB 7082: Revise The Curriculum
Is it enough to read over Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech? Or can its vision of a more equal future be understood only in context of the racism that informed its writing?
Hillary Bridges, the founder of Students for Educational Justice, is making that point as she asks state lawmakers to consider just how they plan to revise the state’s curriculum to include more about racial minorities in two long-overdue bills.
HB 7802, which is co-sponsored by New Haven State Reps. Roland Lemar and Pat Dillon, would finally mandate African-American studies in Connecticut’s social studies lessons. And its companion, HB 7803, which is also sponsored by Rep. Dillon, would also incorporate Puerto Rican and Latino studies.
(A similar bill, HB 5009, is being co-sponsored by Rep. Elliott.)
But Bridges is asking for lawmakers to consider tweaking the bill’s language to take a broader look, not just at the accomplishments of two overlooked racial groups, but at the broader history of race and racism in America.
“In its current state, as the bill is right now, it doesn’t do enough. It has good intentions, but it doesn’t guarantee … it would get at the root causes of things for everybody to understand how things look today, how we have Bridgeport and Fairfield, Hartford and West Hartford,” Bridges said. “Right now, we have generations of students who become teachers and parents who just genuinely don’t know about the history of race in this country. We just have to talk about it.”
Bridges said that the state’s curriculum currently seems to largely skip over race.
When she searched through the state’s social-studies framework for the word itself, Bridges said that it came up only a handful of times: one of them as part of the word “embraced,” one in a disclaimer, and two in substantive reference to the “civil rights movement” and “other reform movements” after 1950.
“It just does not paint the full picture; it doesn’t allow people to understand,” she said. For instance, “people know that black people are poor, but without any context on why that may be, people might think they’re dumber or lazier, that maybe they didn’t work as hard as my family did. You can’t learn about the heroes and saviors of a certain group if you don’t learn about the degree to which they’re oppressed in the first place. We don’t learn that at all.”
Bridges said that studying race more broadly also allows white students to understand how that racial identity was created over generations, after there was initially so much resentment against Jews or Italians or Poles.
Bridges said that she understands the state usually likes to leave lesson plans up to local school boards, but she said this was a case where it needs to be mandated.
“It seems like Connecticut prides itself on allowing each local area being able to teach what they want,” Bridges said. “But the concern is that they might not want to teach what feels uncomfortable and not choose to teach the history of race and racism.”
She said she hoped a final version of the bill would include racial bias training for teachers and administrators, who “themselves haven’t learned it and possibly haven’t explored their own racial and ethnic identity,” along with a board of students, educators and critical race theorists to oversee implementation of the curriculum.
“A bill is one thing,” Bridges said, “but implementation has to happen in every classroom.”
Three other bills would also update the curriculum. Beginning in elementary school, HB 5011 would require lessons on climate-change in science, while HB 5013 would require instruction on civics, citizenship and government in social studies. And in high school, HB 7111 would require lessons on the dangers of vaping and the concept of sexual consent in health class.
HB 7250: Make Time For Play
Under current state law, kids in elementary school are guaranteed only 20 minutes of recess each school day. But a group of local parents is seeking to more than double that allotment, guaranteeing at least 50 minutes of “physical exercise or undirected play” across two periods.
This bill, which is co-sponsored by State Reps. Porter and Elliott, would add that extra time for play from kindergarten through fifth grade.
Developmental experts increasingly recognize that having a chance to play is crucial to the development of a child’s social skills, physical growth and emotional health. That’s what Wendy Waithe Simmons, the director of education and equity at the Connecticut Voices for Children, the New Haven-based child advocacy organization, wrote in supportive testimony for the bill.
“As a psychologist, I understand that play is children’s work,” Simmons said. “Through play, children begin to understand their world, test ideas, build friendships and resolve conflicts.”
Simmons added that “adult-directed activities,” like a physical education class, do contribute to overall health, but they aren’t a substitute for “children’s holistic learning” that happens during free play.
Sarah Miller, a mother at two Columbus Family Academy students and a member of the watchdog group NHPS Advocates, said that she’d noticed private schools allowed their kids much more unstructured time than public schools do.
“The first thing we noticed at every private school [we toured] was the frequency of recess for elementary students: at most schools, two or three times each day. At public school, we observed the opposite: very limited free time for elementary children. I didn’t realize how problematic this was until our oldest son entered kindergarten and started coming home extremely antsy and frustrated,” Miller said. “It shouldn’t be only kids with privilege who have their developmental needs met.”
Another bill aiming to set a “developmentally appropriate” schedule, HB 6206, would also restructure the school day by prohibiting middle and high schools from starting their regular classes before 8:30 a.m.