A good education is fundamental to virtually everything we do in our lives. So, it is critical we provide this for all students in Connecticut. As such, it continues to be one of the most important issues for me as your state representative. All children, regardless of school district or ability, deserve a first-rate education that will give them a firm foundation on which to lead productive and responsible lives.
Since the first State Supreme Court decision on school funding (Horton v. Meskill in 1977), the most impoverished municipalities get most of their funding from the state. While per-pupil spending has increased dramatically, educational results have not improved. So much of our work in Hartford, then, is figuring out how to break the cycle of poverty that is endemic to urban areas.
I believe there should be equal funding for all students in our state. It is critical to support common sense efforts to improve the odds of students in the urban school districts, in particular. Key solutions could include more school choice with charter and magnet schools, more access to early childhood/ preschool programs, and better delivery of special education. There should be more transparency in how state funding is spent at the local level. The Teach for America program (TFA) is another option for bettering our urban schools. Several years ago, I was a TFA guest teacher in Bridgeport where I spent a couple of hours in an urban district classroom. TFA teachers are well trained and set the bar high for their students.
That great experience gave me a window of insight into the challenges facing our more urban areas. I’ve never forgotten these stats about boys in Bridgeport…of all boys that start high school in Bridgeport, 25% will not graduate from high school and 25% of those boys will go to prison. Of those 25% going to prison, 65% of them have a learning disability. Although the needs are more complex, than just one fix, the very least that needs to be done is for these boys to have proper special education programs and funding. Avoiding the school-to-prison pipeline needs to be a prime focus for all of us.
Over the years, as your legislator, I’ve made it a priority to understand the educational situation, opportunities and challenges of our schools within Norwalk/Rowayton/Darien and have built personal relationships with many talented educators in the state. When I have legislative questions, I have extensive resources. Though my primary responsibility is to the 141st district, it is critical to understand, firsthand, education issues in the urban areas as well as for urban legislators to learn more about the suburban towns. Listening and understanding is a responsibility for all legislators as we balance so many interests in our state.
As co-chair of the MORE Commission Special Education Working Group, I was proud to have had a 14-month opportunity examining all aspects of how special education is delivered and funded in our state. One of the easiest fixes is to address language-related learning disabilities such as dyslexia. I’m pleased to have helped move forward good legislation on dyslexia and will continue this work next legislative session.
My strong support of our local schools spans from co-chairing “Yes…DHS”, the referendum committee to build the new Darien High School (with Susan Marks and Kathie Rischmann) to chairing of The Barbara Harrington Fund, a educational enrichment fund for teachers in the Darien School system. With monthly Operations Planning Council as well as Human Service Planning Council meetings, I also keep in close touch with the key issues in Darien around education and related issues of mental health, social, emotional learning and our drug addiction crisis, so I can advocate accordingly.
A final note….I believe that local control is essential. The leftward drift of the Democratic one-party rule in Hartford to regionalize many aspects of our communities is not the right direction. Top-down government—‘the we know best’ approach—is not the way our government was meant to run. Local communities are best able to decide when it makes sense to share resources, and when it does not. Grass roots, bottom-up government is most effective. It is most reflective and respectful of our citizens. Together, we can and we will bring the very best education to our communities, families and children.