Independent Party gubernatorial candidate Rob Hotaling and his running mate “Chip” Beckett Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Independent gubernatorial candidate Rob Hotaling outlined a plan on Thursday, which aims to reduce Connecticut’s student achievement gap by restructuring the state’s education funding formula, encouraging regionalization of services and boosting the salaries of teachers in urban districts. 

Hotaling and his running mate Stewart “Chip” Beckett visited the state Capitol building’s fourth floor press room Thursday following a morning appearance on WNPR. They told reporters that improving education outcomes would be among their top priorities if they beat out their major party rivals, Gov. Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski, in next month’s election.

“Teachers right now are underpaid, overburdened,” Hotaling said. “One, we need to increase their pay in urban environments if that’s what it takes to recruit and retain them… Two, we believe that going to a regional delivery of services will really improve the outcomes of those students.”

The minor party candidates called for making greater use of regional planning organizations like Councils of Governments and Regional Education Councils to streamline the education received by students across the state. Beckett, a veterinarian from Glastonbury, pointed to his hometown where he said several full time employees were tasked with drafting curriculum. 

“As an employer, I want to hire somebody who can read and write and do math. Why is the curriculum different between Glastonbury or Hartford or East Hartford?” Beckett said. “It ought to be one curriculum.”

Their plan also called for restructuring state education funding to municipalities known as Education Cost Sharing, which is calculated by a formula involving resident income levels and a municipality’s property tax base. 

“We believe that instead of it [being] focused on socio-economic metrics like your income or where you live, it really ought to be about the outcome of the student, student achievement, which normally is marked by or best attributed to classroom size and student-teacher ratio size,” Hotaling said.

Changes to education funding would be part of a larger tax plan. Hotaling has proposed to lower the state’s sales tax and simultaneously tax more consumer goods. Meanwhile, the pair want to reduce or eliminate local property and motor vehicle taxes and offset those costs by boosting ECS grants. Beckett said the changes would result in a more usage-based tax structure.

“If you drive on the roads a lot, if you buy a lot of things, you pay more tax,” Beckett said. “If you’re a senior on social security and you don’t go out of your house and you buy $10 worth of groceries a week, you don’t pay hardly anything.”

In a statement, Lamont Campaign spokeswoman Onotse Omoyeni said the governor had gotten the state’s finances in order and taken “big swings” aimed at closing the achievement gap including supplementing municipal school funding.

“Governor Lamont is committed to closing the achievement gap and will continue balancing the budget so we can make targeted investments in what matters most– an opportunity for all,” Omoyeni said.

A spokeswoman for Stefanowski praised Hotaling for embracing more school choice options but criticized him for not speaking out about sex ed curriculum in schools.

“That’s a major issue for parents and it appears Mr. Hotaling, like Governor Lamont, doesn’t see it as a priority,” Sarah Clark said.

Hotaling and Beckett told reporters they were optimistic about their chances next month despite being unable to compete with the advertising of their better-funded opponents. Hotaling pointed to the state’s voter rolls. As of last year, unaffiliated voters outnumbered both Democrats and Republicans in Connecticut. Hotaling said there was a reason for that.

“The major parties are too busy arguing about things that don’t actually affect the kitchen table so we’re highly confident because we really believe this race is not really about big bank accounts,” Hotaling said. “Yes, we have two millionaires who are running and I’m well aware of that, but do they actually have new ideas and new plans?… I think our plans are better.”