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Public schools did not receive top billing among the priorities for Connecticut voters as the gubernatorial primaries approach — that distinction belongs to jobs, health care, and taxes — but education placed a close fourth as 62 percent of residents rated it “very important” in a recent survey.

Foremost among educational issues is funding. Lest we forget, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was set to reduce Education Cost Sharing allotments in 53 towns and cut funds altogether for another 85 municipalities. When the legislature finally passed a budget, that draconian plan was discarded. Still, problems remain. The Teacher Retirement System is underfunded by $13 billion, the achievement gap persists, special-education costs continue to increase, and employers report a shortage of employees with essential skills.

So how, exactly, do the gubernatorial candidates propose to meet these challenges?

Frankly, most candidates offer great “sound-bite strategies” but neglect to explain how they will pay for them.

Democrat Joe Ganim “supports greater investment in our schools,” arguing that “Connecticut’s school funding formula needs to be changed so children in every city and town have access to a first-class education” because “reliance on the property tax to fund schools penalizes schools and students in less wealthy towns.”

But don’t bother looking for Ganim’s alternative sources of funding — they’re nowhere to be found on his website.

Republican Tim Herbst also supports healthy funding for education, noting how “over the last eight years, [he] increased funding for public education each year.” Of course, that’s easier to accomplish for the First Selectman of a suburban town like Trumbull. Nonetheless, Herbst references his successes, including “full-day kindergarten, expanded advanced placement course offerings, [and] diversified technology in the classroom.”

Like Ganim, Herbst’s plan for funding school districts is vague; he simply wants to “ensure towns are provided the resources they need to educate our children.”

Republican Steve Obsitnik dedicates exactly one paragraph on his website to education. Among the highlights: “to keep education decisions at the local level, evaluate the school funding system, and drive student and teacher standards while focusing on future preparation and graduation rates.”

While the details (like funding, again) are lacking, “we won’t rest until every child in Connecticut has access to the quality education they need and deserve,” assures Obsitnik.

And then there’s Republican Bob Stefanowski. His business-oriented platform doesn’t even mention public education. The closest he comes is a lament that “we are losing jobs and losing our well educated young adults to other states.”

Democrat Ned Lamont is among the three remaining gubernatorial candidates who feature more extensive thoughts on education. Chief among them: “fixing and fully-funding the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula.” How Lamont will accomplish this task is a bit vague — something about “creating incentives in state funding that promote cost-efficiencies through regional collaboration.”

But Lamont does like businesses-school partnerships: “I will bring our education and business communities together to dramatically expand apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs,” according to his website. “I look to South Carolina, Colorado, Tennessee, and Maryland as models.”

Lamont emphasizes STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) education: “We need to encourage all students — regardless of their race or gender — to pursue a STEM education so we can create a more diverse talent pool.” How will he fund this initiative? Good question.

Republican Mark Boughton’s focus is on preparing students for the workplace. Specifically, his program would “encourage students interested in technical trades by expanding our state’s vocational and technical school system” and “target the expansion of advanced manufacturing training by partnering with our supply chain and larger manufacturers.”

Boughton would “work with stakeholders to establish a turnaround model similar to Massachusetts for our state’s struggling school districts to help close the achievement gap.” In addition, Boughton believes he can lower school costs by “incentiviz[ing] school districts to offer greater course offerings through an expansion of available online classes.”

The most ambitious candidate, educationally speaking, is Republican David Stemerman. He includes a 12-page document on his website, complete with data, graphs, and sidebars. But looks can be deceiving.

For example, Stemerman claims “our public-school system is failing both at the top and the bottom. Connecticut has only one of the 200 top public-school districts in the country.” Just one problem with this U.S. News tidbit: It was from a report on high schools — not entire school districts. And while it’s true that only one Connecticut high school made the top 200, the state’s high schools in aggregate “ranked fourth best in the nation.” Makes one wonder where else this statistic-laden document might be slightly amiss.

Stemerman likes school-business partnerships. “Close collaboration between businesses and educators,” for instance, will enable the business community to influence curriculum design, instruction, and workplace training — the perfect recipe for preparing students for “for gainful employment,” according to his document.

Stemerman also asserts “the funding a school receives should be driven by the number of students it attracts. Schools with strong performance that attract more students will get more funding and will grow. Schools with poor performance, will get lower funding and will need to improve or risk closure.” In short, school choice.

All told, the education plans of Connecticut’s gubernatorial candidates are long on platitudes and short on details. That’s unfortunate because even if schools rank only fourth on Connecticut voters’ priority list, education’s indispensability to our representative democracy has never been more glaring. As the old saying goes, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 30th year as an English teacher and 15th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition.