OP-ED by Rae Ann Knopf and Ramani Ayer

Published in Hartford Courant on April 19, 2013

On Friday, the General Assembly’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee answered Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget with its proposal. On education reform, the committee’s response is very disappointing.

Rather than building on last year’s historic education reforms, the Appropriations Committee turned the clock back. By decreasing the number of Commissioner’s Network Schools from 21 to 12, allocating no funding for implementing Common Core, and cutting funding for teacher and principal evaluation systems in half, the proposed plan leaves a big hole for schools trying to close achievement gaps for Connecticut’s low-income and minority students.

Why the committee did this is a mystery. Connecticut business and civic leaders back efforts to turn around our weakest schools, build capacity to support improvement for teachers and principals in low-performing districts and strengthen early-learning opportunities for children across the state. The governor’s budget addressed each of these important elements, while on almost all of those elements the Appropriations Committee’s budget falls short.

Our state leaders talk a lot about priorities; they want to make Connecticut a competitive state, spur job growth and economic development and offer a high quality of life to our residents. We believe them.

But the document released on Friday appears to make education an afterthought.

Let’s be clear about what this means. Although every child in Connecticut could be positively affected by these reforms, the committee’s action could mean that up to 200,000 children in the state this year won’t get the interventions they need and deserve.

Much of the reform is directed at closing gaps for minority and low-income children, the majority of whom attend our lowest-performing schools (67 percent minority, 71 percent low-income). Many of these schools have planned for and even implemented reforms from which students are benefiting. Taking them away now, in the earliest stages, would be a critical blow to the children who need the most help.

The governor and the legislature are facing serious budget problems, and we understand they have difficult jobs. Our government funds many important services and programs. But tough budgets force prioritization. These children must not be moved to the bottom of the pile again, as we’ve done for decades. Tragically, we have already lost too many children to a broken system.

Connecticut has the nation’s largest achievement gap between poor and affluent students — passing the 2012 reform package was only the first step in addressing this problem. Elected officials gave lip service to closing the gap for years. The courts ruled that students are being shortchanged. Last year, the governor and the legislature finally passed a solution that was heralded as historic and a national model.

In the coming weeks, the governor and legislators will negotiate a final budget. They should reject the cuts the Appropriations Committee made to the education reforms. Rejecting those cuts means fulfilling a promise to our children for an equal and world-class education. That’s what our students need.

And that’s what Connecticut needs. Our public schools must prepare our children for 21st-century jobs, develop a strong talent base to attract employers, and therefore ensure that there are enough jobs to keep our young people here and to attract others. These are the same goals our leaders are talking about in Hartford. Our public schools have an important role to play in meeting these goals, which the state’s budget should reflect.