Last week, after two years of hearing testimony, the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission issued its draft report.
One hundred and thirty pages of the 198-page report relate to mental health issues, and the importance of building “systems of care that actively foster healthy individuals, families and communities,” particularly in light of research showing that “approximately half of young people qualify for some behavioral health diagnosis by the time they reach 18.”
Yet less than a week later, when Gov. Malloy revealed his biennial budget for 2016-2017, it was as if the Commission had produced an expensive paperweight, for all the attention it received from the administration.
According to an analysis by CT Voices for Children, the “Children’s Budget” – state government spending that directly benefits young people – makes up only a third of the overall state budget, yet over half (54 percent) of the governor’s proposed cuts come from programs affecting children and families.
That’s before we even get to health care and education.
The Sandy Hook report specifically mentioned the importance making it easier for families to obtain mental health services for young people. Yet the budget reduces funding for the Young Adult Services program by $2.7 million (3.3 percent) and reduces funding for school based health centers by $1 million (8.5 percent).
In the Department of Education, the governor plans to eliminate funding for “lower priority or non-statewide programs” by $ 6.2 million. Here we’re talking about programs such as Leadership, Education, Athletics in Partnership (LEAP); Connecticut PreEngineering Program; Connecticut Writing Project; neighborhood youth centers; Parent Trust; science program for Educational Reform Districts; wrap-around services; Parent Universities; school health coordinator pilot; technical assistance – Regional Cooperation; Bridges to Success; Alternative High School and Adult Reading; and School to Work Opportunities. Not only that,he’s cutting $6.49 million annually for Extended School Building Hours and Summer School components of the Priority School District Grant (i.e. grant program for districts with greatest academic need).
Wrap-around services, longer school days, and enrichment for students, particularly in the more disadvantaged districts, were something Malloy touted when he was selling his education reform package back in 2012. “It’s not as if we don’t know what works,” Malloy said in an article in the New Britain Herald: “wrap-around services, longer school days and longer school years, Saturday enrichment options.”
On top of what Malloy said, there’s over 100 years worth of research on summer learning loss. It disproportionately affects lower-income students whose parents can’t afford to send them to pricey summer camps or other enrichment activities. What’s more, the effects are cumulative, contributing to the achievement gap.
But now that he’s been re-elected for a second term, the governor has changed his tune. While claiming in his budget address that “we’re finally making real progress on closing our achievement gap,” Malloy is simultaneously slashing the very programs that are helping to make that happen in the places that need them the most.
One also has to wonder what message the administration is sending by flat-funding the Educational Cost Sharing grant, particularly in light of the outstanding CCJEF lawsuit. The attorney general’s office declined to comment when asked if this might have an impact on the lawsuit.
It’s particularly interesting given that, despite all these draconian cuts elsewhere, there’s plenty of money to fund the two charter schools that Malloy’s appointed State Board of Education approved last April after both the elected boards of education in Stamford and Bridgeport had voted against them. We know what works – and what doesn’t – two years worth of charter scandals later. The governor is cutting what works and funding what doesn’t.
I guess it’s all about the campaign donations. As Capitol Watch reporter Daniela Altimari observed, in his budget speech the governor “mentioned the middle class five times. Number of times he mentioned the poor: zero.”
“We know what works” – but those programs are being cut. Governor Malloy is doing what works for him and his political cronies and donors, instead of what is right for the most vulnerable people in Connecticut.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.
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