CEA Advisor: December 2017 - January 2018

DECEMBER 17 - JANUARY 18 CEA ADVISOR 5 MOBILIZING Before Connecticut’s new biennial budget was passed, the governor’s executive order slashed $557 million in education cost share (ECS) funding to cities and towns, which threatened to devastate our public schools and jeopardize our students’ futures. The governor also proposed shifting the cost of teacher retirement onto cities and towns, which would have led to school budget cuts, property tax increases, or both. Thanks to the advocacy of CEA leadership and staff and the collective activism of CEA members who made thousands of direct appeals to their legislators against the cost shift and in favor of education funding, both plans were roundly defeated. Here is a rundown of items in the new state budget that impact teachers, students, and communities. ECS funding Under the new bipartisan budget, 95–100 percent of education funding was restored to cities and towns across the state. Education funding for the state’s poorest districts was spared from cuts, and the remaining 139 school districts would not lose more than five percent of funding. The significance of this cannot be understated; under the governor’s executive order, districts such as Torrington would have lost 80 percent of their ECS funding. However, in a move that shocked and disappointed communities throughout the state, the governor slashed $91 million in funding to cities and towns—just weeks after the new budget passed. (See story on this page.) While it is a far cry from the originally proposed $557 million, the new round of cuts deals an unfair blow to cities and towns. CARES Commission The budget adopted CEA’s recommendation to create the Connecticut Achievement and Resource Equity in Schools (CARES) Commission, charged with pursuing a predictable, sustainable, and dedicated revenue source to cure the chronic state underfunding that plagues public schools and municipalities across the state. The commission will create a long-term plan to address the state’s constitutional obligation to fund local schools, ensuring that all students have the opportunity to succeed. Members of CARES will include experts in education, taxation, and funding equity and will recommend implementation of a funding formula that reflects the true cost of educating students in their districts. Teacher pensions Intensive lobbying by CEA, including a strong response from teachers, successfully pushed back on a proposed two- percent payroll tax that would have taken money out of teachers’ salaries and put it into Connecticut’s General Fund. CEA uncovered that toxic proposal and shared it with members, who immediately contacted their legislators. Opposition from CEA leadership and thousands of CEA members resulted in a new proposal that reduced the tax increase to one percent and ensured that the funds go directly into the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS), not the General Fund. “This was a long, grueling fight, and teachers made all the difference in the outcome,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen. “While we do not find even a one-percent teacher tax acceptable, we note that legislators listened to teachers and changed their proposal. Legislators reduced the teacher contribution increase from two percent to one percent, and the revenue will now go directly into the teacher retirement fund.” The increase takes effect January 2018. Retired teacher tax exemption Proposals to eliminate the current 25 percent state income tax exemption were defeated, but the increase to 50 percent was deferred for another year. The original plan for exempting half of teachers’ pensions from state income taxes was to be phased in over a two-year period. The phase-in has now been extended to three years and is expected to be in place in tax year 2019. Takeaway lessons The months without a state budget were extremely difficult and anxious for students, parents, and community leaders—as well as teachers, who were targeted with a variety of cuts. “I am so proud of our teachers for standing up for their students, their schools, and their profession. This is a prime example of how when we all get involved, our unified voice and actions do make a difference,” said Cohen. “We prevented and blocked what could have been a far worse outcome, and we successfully protected public education.” Elections matter The people we elect to office to represent us are key to our success, Cohen stresses, adding that legislators’ decisions have a profound impact on students and teachers. “The attacks on teachers and public education in this legislative session should be a wakeup call to every teacher in the state about the importance of next year’s legislative races in the General Assembly. We must not sit on the sidelines. We must get involved and elect candidates who will support pro-public education initiatives.” The next legislative session is right around the corner. It begins on Wednesday, February 7. CEA, with input from teachers, is developing the legislative agenda for next year. CEA LAWSUIT INSTRUMENTAL IN RESTORING ECS FUNDS A lawsuit filed by the Connecticut Education Association against Governor Malloy influenced the passage of the state budget and helped restore ECS funding to all of our schools. Prior to the lawsuit, the governor’s executive order cut education funding around the state by $557 million. The impact on Connecticut cities and towns was devastating, with Torrington’s funding plummeting from $24.5 million to just $4 million and Stratford’s going from $21.5 million to zero. That dynamic changed when CEA, along with the courageous leaders of Torrington, Brooklyn, Stratford, and Plainfield, and teachers, students, and parents in those municipalities, filed a court order seeking an injunction against the governor’s executive order cuts. More than 10,000 teachers across the state also contacted their legislators to demand fair funding for schools. The final bipartisan budget signed into law restored almost all ECS funding to 2017 levels, with towns receiving between 95 percent and 100 percent of their education funds. This prompted CEA to withdraw its lawsuit. “On October 31, the governor signed the bipartisan budget into law, ending the draconian cuts that jeopardized our students’ futures,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen. “With the new budget, millions in education funding will be restored to cities and towns across the state, and a new commission will help secure the equitable distribution of funds in the future.” Through the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) court case and this new commission, says Cohen, “We are hopeful that a new funding plan will be in place next year that will ensure our local public schools have the critical resources needed to provide high-quality education to all of our students.” CEA member advocacy restores school funding, prevents massive teacher layoffs TEACHERS HELP SHAPE CONNECTICUT’S NEW BUDGET CEA President Sheila Cohen at a press conference this fall announcing an injunction to prevent $557 million in eduction cuts to cities and towns. Fight for a fair budget: Far from over After budget passes, governor stuns towns with new cuts Just over a month old, the state budget is already on track for a $207.8 million deficit, which could trigger a midyear budget-cutting plan from Governor Malloy. The governor already exerted the authority granted to him to hold back $91 million in municipal funding—including a $58 million reduction in ECS funding to cities and towns—which stunned legislators and town officials. Every town in the state faces cuts. Those with the largest cuts are Enfield ($2.3 million); West Hartford ($2.2 million); Newington, Wallingford, and Stratford ($1.8 million each); and Southington ($1.7 million). To learn more, visit cea.org/team-qa or email myprofession@cea.org . State funding for TEAM, the Teacher Education And Mentoring program, was unexpectedly wiped out in the budget that passed in October. Connecticut’s TEAM program is one of the nation’s most highly regarded induction and support programs for new teachers. Though TEAM continues for now, it is important to note: • The $500 stipend that TEAM mentors receive will now be paid by school districts, without reimbursement from the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE). • The state no longer requires the completion of reflection papers, but individual school districts might. • Training for mentors and cooperating teachers is still required, but it will not be free. Districts will be expected to pay STATE BUDGET ELIMINATES TEAM FUNDING for the necessary training, and mentor update training will now be conducted entirely online. • According to the CSDE, there will no longer be training for reflection paper reviewers. TEAM is now an unfunded mandate whose future could be in jeopardy in the coming legislative session. For teachers who are midway through TEAM, CEA strongly recommends creating backups of reflection papers and materials stored on the TEAM database. CEA is also strongly advocating for legislators to restore TEAM funding and is bringing teachers’ concerns to both lawmakers and the CSDE. As a teacher, your advocacy is critical in this fight. Share your concerns with CSDE TEAM Program Manager Claudine Primack at claudine.primack@ct.gov and cc Dr. Kate Field at katef@cea.org .