NEW HAVEN — As the newly minted chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that allocates funding to education, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, met with school district executives in her district Monday to determine what her priorities should be.
DeLauro, who had been ranking member on the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies before Democrats won control of the House in the 2018 election, said the meeting at the Betsy Ross School Parish Hall Monday morning was a “productive conversation” about the many challenges facing public school districts.
“I’m really in awe of what they do every day,” she said. “They’re already challenged with educating our children, but we’ve added so many other challenges like school safety and making sure they have nutrition programs.”
DeLauro said as chairwoman she “will look very, very hard” at the direction of education policy under U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
“In my view, it is about privatizing education,” DeLauro said. “We need to stem that tide.”
DeLauro did, however, reinforce her support for charter schools and elite preparatory schools, as important tenets of “school choice.” The students in public schools, she said, are often dealing with “grinding poverty,” but the nation’s public schools are strong enough to prevail.
“Education used to be only in the purview of the rich,” she said, praising federal Pell grants as one thing that has changed the education landscape. “Education is the equalizer.”
DeLauro co-signed former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s remarks that education is “the only valid passport from poverty.”
DeLauro said she supports universal pre-kindergarten, where the government funds preschool for all children. “I believe we are derelict in our duties. Research consistently shows that ages 1 through 3 is when learning happens.”
DeLauro also noted that, although funding for education has increased, some programs are funded below where they were in 2010, including funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Part B. According to the National Council on Disability, federal appropriations for IDEA Part B, which affects preschool grants, was $374 million in 2010 and $368 million in 2017.
Will Clark, the longtime COO of New Haven Public Schools who recently left for a similar position in Waterbury Public Schools, said DeLauro has “always been very good about getting together superintendents and elected officials to hear what’s going on in Washington.”
Colleen Murray, superintendent of the Bethany Public School District, said she left the meeting feeling like DeLauro is a fighter; she said she was imagining DeLauro wearing boxing gloves while she was speaking.
Several superintendents present were also critical of a current legislative plan at the State House to regionalize and consolidate school districts.
“To regionalize for the sake of regionalization; I’m not sure what purpose it serves,” said Stratford Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson.
Robinson said she sees many smaller districts that are succeeding at what they do, and she wouldn’t want to see those models changed.
None of the superintendents present would have their school districts regionalized under legislation from State Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, that calls for municipalities with a population under 40,000 or a student population fewer than 2,000 to have their school districts combined with a contiguous district, but the superintendents present felt it is an inappropriate solution.
“I think there’s a clear distinction between it being a legislative initiative and an educational innovation proposal,” said Branford Superintendent of Schools Hamlet Hernandez.
Education is funded locally by property taxes, making suburban school districts less reliant upon state and federal education funding to meet the needs of students than urban districts like New Haven. Last year, New Haven shut down a magnet high school in part because of its inability to recruit enough white suburban students to meet a state-mandated integration quota.
- ^ including funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (ncd.gov)
- ^ regionalized under legislation from State Sen. Martin Looney (www.nhregister.com)
- ^ New Haven shut down a magnet high school (www.nhregister.com)