dick blumenthal and teachers
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal talks with Connecticut Education Association Vice President Joslyn Delancey and Emma Sands from the CEA Aspiring Educators Program Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

A Connecticut teachers union and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal called Friday on Congress to approve funding for educator retention policies as the state approaches the beginning of an academic year with a “desperate” shortage of teachers.

During a mid-day press conference outside the state Capitol building in Hartford, Blumenthal said Connecticut schools had 1,300 vacant teaching positions and another 1,300 open paraprofessional jobs just weeks before the beginning of the school year. 

“The people of Connecticut ought to be disturbed, deeply alarmed and angry that we have that teacher shortage here when we have the power to avoid it,” he said. “We ought to take action even if it won’t produce teachers next week or the week after, we can begin the investment.” 

Blumenthal and members of the Connecticut Education Association called for the federal government to bolster funding in an appropriations bill for the Teacher Quality Partnership program, a grant initiative to enhance the training of new teachers.

Another bill, the RAISE Act, would provide up to $15,000 in tax credits for teachers. Blumenthal also called for an accelerated loan forgiveness program targeted specifically at educators. 

CEA Vice President Joslyn Delancey called Connecticut’s teacher shortage an immediate crisis. 

“We are starting the school year with classrooms that do not have assigned teachers and it’s just weeks away,” she said.

Delancey said the number of people wishing to become educators in Connecticut had dropped sharply in the 20 years she had been a teacher. 

“It didn’t happen by accident,” she said. “We had 20 years of attacks on public education. We’ve had stagnant teacher salaries. We’ve had policies that, while some may have been well-intended, have been woefully damaging to the success of our students.” 

During a press conference last week, Education Commission Charlene Russell-Tucker described the state’s efforts to attract more teachers ahead of the coming school year. They included hiring more than 400 new teachers from outside Connecticut through reciprocity agreements with around a dozen other states. 

“There’s a lot of work happening across the state in this vein,” Russell-Tucker said. “We know how important it is.”

Meanwhile, the two-year state budget approved during this year’s legislative session accelerates increases in state education grants to local districts by around $150 million, meaning many towns will have additional funds to operate schools. 

On Friday, Delancey called the legislative session a mixed bag for Connecticut educators. 

“There were some [policies] passed, but not 100% commitment to making sure that we fix this problem,” she said. “We didn’t commit to putting money directly toward teacher salaries or smaller class sizes. We got a lot of money to school districts but no acknowledgment of where it really needs to go to impact this shortage.” 

Educators also stressed the importance of attracting a diverse group of teachers to meet the needs of all Connecticut students. 

“Diversifying the profession is very important,” Bloomfield teacher Gail Jorden said. “It’s not to say that teachers that don’t look like their students can’t relate to their students and can’t teach their students. Of course they can. However, there’s a different connection that is able to happen when a teacher has lived through the same experiences that they know that the student’s going through. It’s a different level of education that they can give that child.”

Blumenthal told reporters that passing the three teacher support policies through Congress would take support from both sides of the political aisle. Teacher shortages were not limited to Connecticut, he said. 

“These teacher shortages are acute in Connecticut but they’re countrywide,” he said. “Red state, blue state — teacher shortages all around the country demand bipartisan action.”