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Resolving Deep Disparities and Creating Abundant Opportunities

For months, state lawmakers and the governor have delayed deploying available resources to local schools, colleges and universities, resulting in harmful service cuts and painful staff layoffs. In a recently published commentary, two AFT Connecticut-affiliated union leaders teamed up to urge better choices. New Haven Federation of Teachers President Leslie Blatteau (in collage above, left) and CSU-AAUP Council Member Christopher Trombly (right) called for collective action to secure a “more prosperous, more just and more equitable” future:

If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, Thomas Aquinas observed, he would keep it in port forever. Of course, sea captains must do all that they can to maintain the integrity of their ships ­- but in service of those vessels’ larger, essential missions. As with sea captains and ships, so with elected officials and public finances.

Fiscal discipline and sound bond ratings are important for Connecticut’s state government to achieve, but they are not ends in themselves. Rather, they must be maintained so that our state government may fulfill its larger, essential mission, which – to quote from our state’s constitution – is to “perpetuate the liberties, rights and privileges which [the People of Connecticut] have derived from their ancestors.”

To Connecticut’s shame, the “liberties, rights and privileges” about which our founders wrote are not now being – and have never been – enjoyed in anything approaching a just or equitable fashion. While we happen to be amongst the richest states in the union, we are also one of the least equitable. Wealth, income, and such crucial outcomes as housing security, food security, access to high-quality affordable medical and mental health care, and access to high-quality public education (from Birth to 3, from PreK-12, and at the post-secondary level) are not uniformly available to the people of our state.

Click here for Blatteau and Trombly’s previous commentary on Connecticut’s income inequality.

The General Assembly made strides, last year, in appropriating funds to address generations-old disparities in PreK-12 educational opportunities for the young people of Connecticut. Still, our legislature remains continually hindered by the fiscal guardrails to which it and the administration had formerly agreed – guardrails that, however prudent their aims, were not the product of decades of painstaking analysis by economists, but arbitrary determinations made by elected officials during a necessarily hasty political process.

Yes, the fiscal guardrails – including the spending cap – have served to raise Connecticut’s esteem in the eyes of rating agencies and bond holders, but they have done nothing to perpetuate the well-being of all of its residents. Still worse, the guardrails are now actively used by people in both parties to justify not doing more to address the hideous disparities that exist across our state, and which particularly impact the current circumstances and future prospects of Connecticut’s young people of color.

As educators, we cannot overstate the role that accessibility to public higher education plays as we work to engage adolescent students. A key part of positive youth development is when young people have the opportunity to develop clear visions of themselves in the future. As more and more of our students read the current headlines about massive budget cuts to public higher education, how will our public high school students from families earning low incomes be able to have this vision of themselves as college students in the future?

Click here for a local union leader’s recent op-ed on cuts to the state’s flagship university.

This is incredibly frustrating as individuals who want students to have real options for life after high school (Blatteau taught world history at New Haven’s Metro Business Academy and Trombly is associate professor and coordinates Southern Connecticut State University’s Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies 6th year program), but also as individuals who represent workers who know all too well about working in underfunded, understaffed, and under-supported systems.

Because the State of Connecticut relies on an archaic, classist, and racist system of funding local school districts through property taxes, working class students, Black and brown students, immigrant students, and English language learners often have to make do in public schools with lower resources, higher class sizes, under-maintained facilities, limited extracurricular activities, less access to elective courses, school counselors, school libraries, and high-quality learning materials. Now, with the devastating proposed cuts to public higher education, especially to the 12 community college campuses and the four regional Connecticut State Universities, these same students – who should be given more support as we work together to dismantle systemic inequalities in our state – will, upon graduation from high school, be delivered yet another underfunded public education system.

In his last State of the State Address, Governor Ned Lamont made a point of quoting State Senator Gary Winfield’s frequent reminder, “people would need fewer second chances if we gave them more first chances.” Put in practical terms, Connecticut would have little need of the recently established 119K Commission, charged with re-engaging disconnected youth, if state leaders were more committed to ensuring all children’s consistent access to basic necessities from birth.

Click here for a union member’s recent commentary on Connecticut’s student learning crisis.

We urge Governor Lamont and his colleagues in the Connecticut General Assembly to work together to demonstrate their commitment to ensuring that all the young people of our state are afforded the opportunities to which they are entitled, and which all of us residents need for them to have if our state is to grow more prosperous, more just and more equitable.

We urge our fellow citizens to write to Governor Lamont and to your own members of the Connecticut General Assembly to support the following measures, which collectively would begin to increase equitable opportunities within Connecticut while also maintaining the state’s solid fiscal footing:

Click here for Blatteau and Trombly’s original published commentary in CT Viewpoints.

Editor’s note: at press time, legislative leaders have filed an emergency certification proposal allocating one-time federal pandemic relief dollars toward public services.

Click here for reporting on the agreement lawmakers reached with the governor to fund PreK-12 and higher education.

Matt O'Connor
Matt O'Connor
Communications Coordinator for AFT Connecticut, a labor federation of over 30,000 hard-working women and men in the Nutmeg State.

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