Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my column on important public policy discussions occurring throughout the 5th State Senate District and under the Capitol dome.
With the school year about to start, here are some relevant updates:
Every year my priority in the state budget is to ensure that state funding for West Hartford schools remains strong so we can continue to protect home values and maintain West Hartford’s reputation as having some of the finest public schools in the state.
I’m happy to say that in the biennial state budget, I helped secure $43,359,915 in Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funds for West Hartford over the next two years. That is a 1.83 percent and a 3.67 percent increase in state aid over 2019. Every penny counts when we are looking to invest in our schools and keep our local property tax rates at reasonable levels.
On a related note, you may recall that earlier this year there was a proposal to require most Connecticut towns to pay part of the cost of their annual teacher pensions; the total impact on cities and towns would be about $73 million, including $524,000 on West Hartford alone. Right now Connecticut covers 100 percent of the cost of local teacher pensions.
Transferring this cost to the towns would drive up property taxes and undermine available resources for our teachers.
I am pleased to say that in the final budget that Democrats negotiated and passed, and which I voted for, the state will continue to pay the full cost of local teacher pensions. This is a big win for local homeowners and their mil rates.
Staying on the topic of education-related issues, I am especially proud to announce that the state legislature passed the “Tobacco 21” bill this year which raises Connecticut’s smoking age from 18 to 21 as of October 1. This new law was part of a push by myself and other legislators to counteract the increase of youth smoking, especially youth use of tobacco vaporizers or “vapes” which the U.S. Surgeon General has called an “epidemic.” The new law also bans smoking and e-cigarette use on school and child care center grounds.
You may recall that last year I hosted an informational forum in teen smoking at Hall High School. It was a bitterly cold evening, but dozens of parents still came out to say how scared they are for their children and how concerned they are about creating a new generation of individuals addicted to nicotine. Weeks later I was at Conard High School, and by now parents were demanding that the legislature take action on what they saw as a public health crisis. I’m happy to say we listened and we achieved that goal.
Finally, as the school year approaches it’s worth noting that very soon all school district will have to make African American and Latino history curriculum available to students. State Rep. Bobby Gibson and state Sen. Douglas McCrory, both of Bloomfield, were the lead sponsors of this legislation and I was a proud co-sponsor. I testified in support of this legislation with the Jewish Federation of Connecticut, articulating that we need to make sure our children are learning about the full scope of our country’s history, and about the contributions and historical achievements that all have contributed to that make America great. This is our opportunity to show that America and its history is not static, but is rather a fluid and expanding understanding that we ourselves are still creating.