In the State · New Haven

On The Parent Express Trail: Two State Legislators Discuss Education Priorities Going Into 2017 Session

Tomorrow begins the legislative session for the Connecticut General Assembly. This year will be an important one. With both the CCJEF decision and budget deficit looming, it’s likely there will be major education decision on the table.

Two weeks ago, during the Connecticut Parents Union parent express bus tour I sat down briefly with two state legislators: State Sen. Gary Winfield (D-10) and state Rep. Robyn Porter (D-94), who both made appearances during the event — here’s what they had to say on the upcoming session and what issues they think are important:

(editor’s note: Interviews have been edited slightly for concision)

State Sen. Gary Winfield, who represents the New Haven area, is the reformer chairman of the General Assembly’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus and is also a member of the Education Committee.


Going into the legislative session, what are your priorities in terms of education policy?

“Education itself is of course always a priority. A couple years ago we did a bill on ‘Early Reading Success’, a K through 3 reading program we developed in the state with education experts from around the country. What I would really love someday to do is to expand that program. We’re in the fifth year of the program. We’ve seen data that’s come back that said that it had an effect on the young people in the districts that we have placed it, that is actually more positive than we thought.

We were told we couldn’t turn around the statistics on reading in certain ways. The program has outperformed everything we were told. I know we don’t have money in the state right now, but my goal is always to try and expand it because it’s actually a successful program.  As you may know, we do a lot of things to help young people who aren’t where they’re supposed to be in terms of reading, but many of those programs aren’t actually successful.”

If you’d like to take a look at the study that the Connecticut Association for Human Services on the 1998 law that established, Early Reading Success – here’s a link

What is your opinion on CCJEF?

I think Moukawsher saying the things he said, regardless of whether you agree with everything he said, was important. I think the state of Connecticut responds to being embarrassed. So, we have an achievement gap in this state for a very long time, that was as large as it currently is and has been for the last five or six years when we really had a response to that issue. But the reason we didn’t respond is because we didn’t have very visible national statistics that said, you’re worst or fourth from the worst. Once that happened you saw in the general assembly all of sudden this desire to deal with the achievement gap.”

So Moukawsher saying the same thing the things he did, even the stuff including special education I think was important to force the issue onto the map. So, that the general assembly has to have some sort of a response.”

Do you think there is the political will right now?

“The general assembly has a propensity for pushing things off and having more muted responses to things than I would like, but I think to just go into session and walk out of session and have no response. Now what that is, I don’t know yet of course, but I think it’s going to force us to have to wrestle with these issues.”

State Rep. Robyn Porter represents Hamden is a member of the appropriations committee.

Going into the legislative session, what are your priorities in terms of education policy?

“Well, I think one of the things that are going to be important for me in this session as far as education goes is dealing with suspension with [grades] K through 2. And, we actually were able to pass a bill on that, but there were some exceptions where children will still be under an umbrella where they could be suspended or expelled. So, I want to address those issues. I would also like to expand it to include pre-K, cause I really believe that children in pre-K to 2, actually 3, shouldn’t be suspended. There should be some kind of in-house resources and wrap around services for them to keep them in school and to keep them engaged.”

It seems like education funding and equity is going to be a major topic. Can you give me your thoughts?

“Well,  it’s going to be an interesting session. We are in a deficit. There are going to be cuts that need to be made, but I’m going to be pushing along with other legislators that we look at revenue. That this not be an austerity budget, that we have to look at ways of bringing revenue into the state of Connecticut and building on that end so we have a give and take from both aspects.”



What do you think?

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