A bipartisan group of 17 lawmakers met Friday to discuss the financial impact of Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s decision to unilaterally eliminate the licensed practical nursing program to help close the budget gap.
In November, Rell eliminated program offered at 10 of the state’s technical high schools, to save an estimated $1.7 million in the current fiscal year. In a statement Thursday Rell’s office defended the cut saying it was “well within her authority under state law and the state Constitution.”
But a group formed by state Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, and Sen. Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford, believe the decision was short-sighted because it’s one of the few programs that is creating jobs in a field where jobs are expected to increase 16.8 percent over the next decade.
“Now is not the time to eliminate a successful and proven pro-jobs, pro-economic growth program,” Williams said.
The program Rell eliminated graduates approximately 350 students every 16 months.
“Democrats have already cut a historic amount from the state budget, and we will be cutting more in the coming months to meet deficit projections, but we remain committed to maintaining programs that grow jobs,” Harris said.
Harris said at today’s meeting that the group gathered information about the program and will meet again to discuss those findings.
At the meeting lawmakers heard from the union that represents the teachers that teach the nursing program. According to Jennifer Berigan, a lobbyist for AFT Connecticut, the $1.7 million in savings is suspect and eliminating the program may actually cost the state $1 million.
Harris said since most of the 44 teachers are protected by the State Employees Bargaining Association Coalition’s no-layoff provision they will have to be transferred from a 180 day work schedule to a 240 day work schedule, which will cost the state $400,000 more in salaries and benefits. Add that to the $500,000 loss in tuition revenue and the reimbursement of the $50 application fee paid by students and the state may actually be losing money.
In an email to Harris, Berigan also argues that once a licensed practical nurse graduates and is working they repay the state’s investment within seven years in income taxes.
Most of the nurses who rallied to save the program said they would be willing to pay more in tuition to the state in order to keep the program going. Currently students pay $4,850 in tuition, which is about 20 percent of the full cost of the program
In response to the formation of the group, Rell’s spokeswoman Donna Tommello said, “The last thing the public and the Legislature need is another study or commission. If the Legislative members really cared about saving the program they would have taken action during the session in December – which they didn’t.”