As Connecticut state government readies for another legislative session, a number of high-profile debates from 2019 will be carried over into the new year. From affordable housing to increased educational equity and options, vaccination requirements, and more – many topics that received a great deal of attention ultimately failed to move forward in the face of loud opposition at the state Capitol.
However, by looking at real data rather than just listening to the predictable naysayers, it’s clear there is far more consensus on these issues than some of the critics would suggest.
To that end, Education Reform Now Advocacy CT recently commissioned a poll of Democratic primary voters by the nationally recognized research firm Public Policy Polling (PPP). In Connecticut, Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 2:1, hold every federal and statewide constitutional office, and maintain strong majorities in the General Assembly. That is why we set out to study where Democratic voters’ priorities lay on many issues related to children and families, issues that the governor and the General Assembly likely will address in the coming months.
The poll results make clear that when it comes to what is best for Connecticut children – voters want leaders to take action now to put children’s futures first.
One of the continuing challenges of our state is that segregated communities are sustained by a lack of affordable housing options and education funding relies heavily on property taxes. Our survey revealed that 69% of Democratic primary voters in Connecticut believe that the way in which communities are divided – based on race and socio-economic status – is contributing to the state’s economic challenges, while only 13% disagree. A vast majority, 83% of Democratic primary voters, also believe that state and local governments have a responsibility to take action to increase affordable housing.
In 2020, one of the ways to do this is to establish a school construction bonus incentive that can be pursued by municipalities with inclusive housing policies and that actively build more affordable housing. In doing so, Connecticut would send a clear signal that prosperous communities must offer greater access for all families working toward educational opportunity for their children, and that the state will support their efforts to do so.
Connecticut voters also know that many families often struggle with balancing housing affordability and choosing a school or district that can provide the best outcomes for their children. Democratic voters agree that one of the ways we as a state can address this inequity is to offer families more public school options.
A large majority – 71% – support providing families with more choice in the public school system, including public charter schools, magnet schools, and career academies, with only 18% opposing the concept. In other words, those with a reflexive opposition to school choice are out-of-step with Democratic primary voters and their values.
This dynamic can be seen right now in Danbury, where the Danbury Prospect Charter School has been approved by the State Board of Education and supported by families and community leaders across the city, but still lacks the necessary funding authorized by the legislature that would allow it to open. This school, along with the expansion of Open Choice, would alleviate significant school overcrowding in a growing Connecticut city.
Throughout 2019, Connecticut debated the religious exemptions to school immunization requirements. These exemptions put many of our students with vulnerable health issues at risk and impact classroom safety, one of the preconditions of learning for every student. According to our poll, voters decisively agree that strict vaccination policies should be enforced, with 77% of Democrats believing the religious exemption to vaccines should be eliminated so that students must be vaccinated against infectious, deadly, and preventable diseases, like measles. And with good reason: every reputable medical organization has publicly supported vaccines, and 95% of all Connecticut parents comply with this guidance.
With the backing of the vast majority of their constituencies, Connecticut’s Democratic leaders should act confidently and swiftly this session to protect all children by eliminating the religious exemption. They should not bend to the vocal minority criticizing the measure or arguing for simultaneous steps to ease the procural of medical exemptions. Doing so would be closing a door and opening a window for those trying to skirt the public trust.
As they kick off 2020, Democrats have been tasked to act on behalf of voters’ values. They were not offered this responsibility to seek middle-of-the-road concessions in the face of our state’s challenges. There will always be a loud and organized opposition to making Connecticut a more fair and promising place for children and families. The numbers prove that, all too often, it’s just noise.
Amy Dowell is the Connecticut State Director for Democrats for Education Reform.
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