A group of licensed practical nurses and aspiring licensed practical nurses packed a hearing room Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building to let Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell know they aren’t happy with her decision to cut their tuition subsidy.
When Rell unveiled her deficit mitigation plan a few weeks ago she announced she was eliminating the $1.7 million tuition subsidy for aspiring licensed practical nurses enrolled in the state’s 10 technical high schools.
“We need Governor Rell to fix this,” Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, said. “We don’t have time for a legislative solution.”
The Democrats hold the majority in the legislature and could restore the funding if they decide to convene on Dec. 15 to fix the state’s budget deficit. However, Tercyak, said he’d rather see Rell restore the money instead because “we can’t play ping pong forever.”
He said he didn’t think the legislature would be able to restore the funding in time for the class that starts in January. The funding covers about 20 percent of the tuition for the students enrolled in the program.
Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, said she’d be okay with using $30 million from the state’s public campaign finance system in order to pay for the nursing subsidy.
“Allow the people standing here to make a life for themselves” Prague said. “Whatever we spent on this program is worth it.”
Chantal Kouoh of West Hartford, who is currently a certified nursing assistant and aspiring licensed practical nurse, said she was supposed to start her LPN classes in January.
Unable to afford the courses at a private school, Kouoh said she thinks there are a lot of aspiring licensed practical nurses out there in similar situations. As single mother, Kouoh said she feels like “one part of my life is gone.”
“I really hope Gov. Jodi Rell changes her mind and brings back this program,” Kouoh said.
Steve Bender, director of the 1199 Training and Upgrade Fund, said private school tuition costs between $28,000 and $32,000.
Alex Johnson of Capitol Workforce Partners said that while there may be a lull in hiring LPN’s currently, workforce data shows there will be a greater demand in a few years as the population in the state continues to age. Johnson called the governor’s decision shortsighted and hopes she will reconsider.
Marcia Proto, co-executive director of the Connecticut League for Nursing, said the current job shortage is because of the down economy, which is forcing some of the older nurses to put off their retirement. She said that once the class of 2011 graduates, these jobs will be in demand again.
Reggie Thomson, president of the Connecticut LPN Association, said that based on the state’s agreement with the labor unions earlier this year, none of the teaching staff at the technical schools can be laid off. She said it doesn’t make much sense to have teachers without students.
But Rell seems to be standing firmly behind her decision.
“The Governor doesn’t want to cut funding for any program, but the state faces a $600 million budget deficit” Rell’s office said Tuesday. “The bottom line is that this program isn’t paying for itself … Connecticut’s taxpayers have been subsidizing it in a big way ($17,150 per student).”
While Rell seemed to be open to alternatives, it’s unclear if the legislature’s Democratic majority will seek to re-establish the funding since it’s still unclear if they will convene on Dec. 15 to adopt or modify her deficit mitigation plan.
“We look forward to hearing what alternatives the press conference participants are proposing in the way of spending cuts. We will be happy to review them,” Rell’s office said.